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US Is Looking Into How Waters Off Malta Are Becoming A Hotspot For Venezuela-Russia Illicit Chemical Transfers

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Reports that Venezuela is using Hurds Bank – an offshore bank off Malta – to bypass US sanctions and make ship-to-ship transfers with Russia for desperately needed chemicals, have brought the attention of the Trump Administration, an anonymous source has told the Associated Press.

Venezuela, currently embroiled in a civil war defined by growing inflation and poverty, needs the chemicals to dilute its heavy crude oil, a vital component of its economy.

The report also quotes Ian Ralby, head of I.R. Consilium (a US-based consultancy focused on maritime and resource security) who said:

“Criminals connected to Venezuela are getting increasingly creative as they manipulate the laws that govern international maritime commerce to bypass sanctions.”

“Authorities in the region and beyond need to be both alert and proactive in preventing the Maduro regime from using illicit activity to convert Venezuelan resources into cash.” 

In August, Lloyds List claimed that at least ten chemical or product tankers were tracked making ship-to-ship transfers off of Malta, believing that roughly 400,000 tonnes of refined products had been shipped over the same period.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg claimed that Venezuela received at least 616,000 barrels of gasoline and 500,000 of vacuum gas oil in June and July.

Hurds Bank, it should be noted, is outside Malta’s territorial waters and does not fall under the island’s jurisdiction. However, Malta does profit off the area, providing the ships with supplies.

It is also not the only area part of the scheme with similar transfers happening by Aruba, Gibraltar, among others.

While Venezuela has long faced the wrath of US sanctions, these have increased under the Trump administration in the face of growing concerns with Nicolas Maduro and his grasp on the country.

The US government has barred US companies from dealing with the Venezuelan state-run oil giant PDVSA and threatened retaliation against foreign companies that continue to do business with it.

The sanctions look to deprive him of easy cash from Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, some ship captains and their employers are eager to help the embattled socialist by “going dark” to hide tankers brimming with crude.

Most of the chemicals are going to Russia or China, who have a more liberal attitude against the US sanctions.  The Financial Times has released data which showed that Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft had supplied all of PDVSA’s petrol in June.

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