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Venezuelan ports operating ‘normally’ after US intervention

Major Venezuelan ports of all types are working normally, despite the country’s ongoing crisis and the imposition of US sanctions, says leading shipping lawyer. But the picture could change on a day-to-day basis, warns José Alfredo Sabatino Pizzolante

Strains on truck availability are said to be hampering the discharge of bulkers, leading to increased dwelltimes, but the situation is otherwise calm, says the man who acts as correspondent for most leading P&I Clubs

VENEZUELAN ports handling Petróleos de Venezuela tankers are working normally at present after the US imposed sanctions on the state oil company, according to one of the country’s best-known shipping figures.

José Alfredo Sabatino Pizzolante is a partner at law firm Sabatino Pizzolante Abogados Marítimos & Comerciales and managing director of Globalpandi, which acts as local correspondent for most International Group of P&I Clubs affiliates. He is also member of the Comité Maritime International.

Venezuela has been rocked by protests after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate president, rather than the elected incumbent Nicolás Maduro Moros.

Mr Guaido’s stance is being backed by a number of countries including the US, which has imposed sanctions on state oil producer PDVSA, in order to strengthen the unelected opposition’s hand.

But Mr Pizzolante said that most terminals are either state-owned or state-managed, and some commercial ports are even under military control and thus operating without impediment.

Major ports such as Puerto Cabello, La Guaira, Amuay or Jose have not been caught up in the protests, which have mainly been focused at the capital Caracas and other non-port cities.

However, political tensions have reduced truck availability, which has in turn lowered discharging rates for bulkers alongside, thereby increasing dwelltime.

Major oil facilities at Maracaibo, Punta Cardon Amuay and Jose Terminals are also said to be working normally.

“Oil terminals are state-owned and tend to be located outside the city, and we have not received any notice that operations are restricted. Ports handling containers and bulk cargoes are also working normally,” said Mr Pizzolante.

“The problem is a political problem, but international trade has not been affected,” he added. “That doesn’t mean that the situation won’t change suddenly from one day to another. We would need to be magicians to predict that.”

One scenario is that demonstrations could hit land transport, with resultant operational disruption. Security issues could also arise, especially if people stay away from ports out of fear for their own safety.

Trade unions in the public sector ports are considered politically moderate, said Mr Pizzolante, and there are no immediate fears that they will add to the turmoil.

“In the case of oil, fuel oil and PDVSA products, the ships just call at the terminal, pick up the product and they depart. I don’t see any problems there.

“I don’t see why tankers should not load for the time being. We are receiving tankers without any problem. The tankers are here.”

Crews are recommended to take necessary security steps, remaining on board at all times if possible.

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