By Marianna Parraga
HOUSTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Venezuela's state oil companyPDVSA has leased two secondhand oil tankers owned by a Greekbroker, maritime sources said on Wednesday, and it plans to rentanother two Suezmaxes for its aging fleet which urgently needsvessels for long distance routes to Asia.
PDVSA and Venezuela's official news agency saidthe first tanker, the Rio Arauca, which arrived in Venezuelanwaters on Friday, came directly from the dockyard. But thevessel's registration documents show it is owned by HorizonTankers, a company based in Greece.
The vessel, which used to be named Melodia, was finished in2011 by the South Korean shipyard Samsung Heavy Industries. InJuly it changed its classification company, the broker and itsflag after being registered in the Marshall Islands.
A broker close to the deal said that the tanker, as well asanother Suezmax, from the same Greek company, called Rio Caroni- its old name was Amarylis - are being operated by the Cyprusbranch of the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM)to serve PDVSA's fleet under leasing contracts.
"Venezuela is not the owner and it does not appear anywherein the vessels' documents. These deals were made to have fasteraccess to tankers that are already built," the broker said.
PDVSA ordered 42 new tankers in 2006 to expand its fleet andcut high transportation costs on routes to Asian countries suchas China, India and Japan. But since then only five tankers havebeen delivered because of numerous delays, so PDVSA now needsvessels quickly to reduce its expensive freight bills.
Venezuela's Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Fridaythat the Rio Arauca tanker, which has a capacity of 1 millionbarrels, "will strengthen PDVSA's fleet in every route, in orderto satisfy the company's transportation needs."
He did not specify the vessel's origin, but said three otherSuezmaxes are already serving PDVSA's fleet.
Nevertheless, Reuters' ship tracking information shows thatonly two of the Suezmaxes are active and navigating using theirnew names, after being re-registered in the Marshall Islands.
The broker added that both vessels appear to be in goodcondition and passed all their inspections, the last one beingcarried out in Tokyo this year.
"If PDVSA urgently needs the tankers, this is an option.But leasing the vessels through a foreign company implies thatVenezuelans will not be preferred to be hired as crew," anotherbroker said.
PDVSA is one of Bernhard Shulte's biggest clients. It iscurrently operating eight Lakemaxes, three multipurpose vesselsfor importing grain, the new Chinese VLCC (very large crudecarrier) Ayacucho, and the Suezmaxes.
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