Shipping agencies hit in Venezuelan oil battle

Venezuelan courts have moved to seize the assets of six private shipping agencies over debts to state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), reports Reuters, citing a document seen and two people with knowledge of the matter.

Port and shipping agencies pay the state-run firm for the use of oil terminals that it owns. They do so on behalf of PDVSA’s customers or fuel suppliers. The agencies also pay fees to Venezuela’s INEA maritime authority for services such as anchorage and tugboats.

According to an internal INEA document dated February 17th, a Caracas criminal court decreed the seizure of assets belonging to the six agencies for alleged “misappropriation” of funds, which had harmed PDVSA. It was not immediately clear who had requested the asset seizure.

Since the letter was sent, intelligence police had conducted raids on several of the private shipping agencies, taking documents and computers with them, said Reuters, citing anonymous sources.

Since the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA last year, shipping agencies have been reluctant to carry out transfers to PDVSA’s bank accounts for fear of contravening restrictions on dealing with the entity.

Several attempted transfers had also been returned by banks, while some PDVSA customers were themselves wary of transferring money to the company’s accounts to pay for basic shipping services and fees.