US Sanctions – Venezuela oil trade by non-US entities sanctionable

15 April 2019

As Members are already aware from our News Alert of 15 February 2019 (click here), the US imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s oil sector, including designating Petroleos de Venezuela SA (“PdVSA”) as a sanctioned entity pursuant to Executive Order 13850 (“EO 13850”). Previous legal advice obtained on EO 13850 and FAQ 657 from Freehill Hogan & Mahar LLP indicated that non-US persons/entities were still free to trade with and carry PdvSA cargoes, in certain circumstances.

We have now been advised by Freehill, Hogan and Mahar LLP that the stance of the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has changed during implementation of EO 13850. The shift seems to have been signalled by a tweet on social media by National Security Advisor, John Bolton, on 12 March 2019 placing insurance companies and flag carriers that facilitate crude shipments from Venezuela to Cuba “on notice”. There are reports that some non-US companies had subsequently received warnings from the US State Department that any type of oil trade with PdVSA would be considered a breach of sanctions. Then, on 5 April 2019, the M/T “DESPINA ANDRIANNA”, along with her Owners and Managers – who we understand to be non-US entities - were designated as sanctioned entities for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy. It appears that the tanker had carried petroleum products from PdVSA to Cuba openly for a number of years prior to this.

In light of the above, there is now a clear risk of sanctions for any vessel engaged in trade between PdVSA and Cuba. Further, it has also been indicated that the supply of petroleum products to PdVSA by non-US persons could be treated as sanctionable by OFAC. Members engaged in or contemplating any oil trade with Venezuela should note the latest developments and take appropriate steps to avoid violating sanctions and the adverse consequences.

The full Client Alert by Bill Juska of Freehill, Hogan and Mahar LLP can be accessed by clicking here.