Drewry Maritime Research
Maritime Research

US sanctions on Venezuela to boost tonnage demand for tankers


US sanctions on Venezuela are likely to change the pattern of crude tanker trade, with long-haul trade replacing the short-haul trade. While the prospective change in trade pattern will favour VLCCs, it will work against Aframaxes.

The US government has imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned energy company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in order to choke Venezuelan oil revenues and oust Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president. The sanctions will effectively bar Venezuela from exporting crude oil to the US until Maduro steps down.


The sanctions will also halt Venezuela’s imports of the diluents (light crude and naphtha) required for blending with the extra-heavy oil from the country’s Orinoco Belt. With the US placing PDVSA on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list, the processing of dollar payments by American financial institutions for Venezuelan crude sales to other countries is also being curbed.


Theoretically, these measures have the potential to halt Venezuela’s crude exports. Even if Venezuela finds alternative sources for diluents and manages to find buyers for its crude, the country’s crude exports to the US will certainly stop as long as the sanctions are in place.


The US is the largest importer of the Venezuelan crude and imported around 500,000 bpd during January-October 2018. In the absence of US purchases, only complex refineries in Asia will be able to process the heavy sour crude from Venezuela. However, Venezuela will have to heavily discount its crude in order to displace the heavy Middle Eastern crude.

Venezuela's crude production and exports to US (‘000 bpd)

Venezuela's crude production and exports to US (‘000 bpd)

Following US are China and India, the next biggest buyers of Venezuelan crude, with about 340,000 bpd and 350,000 bpd of imports respectively in 2018. State-run refineries in China and private sector refineries in India have enough appetite for heavy crude to absorb the diverted Venezuelan crude barrels.


But the US Gulf Coast refineries will find it difficult to replace heavy Venezuelan crude with supplies from nearby sources, especially due to the declining production in Mexico and logistics problem with Canadian crude exports. As a result, US Gulf refiners will have to find replacement supplies in the Middle East.


So, effectively short-haul US crude imports from Venezuela are likely to be replaced by long-haul imports from the Middle East. Similarly, relatively short-haul Asian imports from the Middle East could be replaced by the long-haul imports from Venezuela.


From the tanker market’s perspective, the possible increase in long-haul trade will support the overall tonne-mile demand. However, for the individual segments it will be a mixed bag with VLCCs gaining and Aframaxes losing. As per our estimates, the potential shift in the crude trade pattern due to sanctions should increase VLCC demand by 24 vessels (annually), but could reduce the demand for Aframaxes by some 15 vessels (annual).


Rajesh Verma

Rajesh Verma

Lead Analyst, Tanker Shipping

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