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Saudi shipper Bahri says VLCC en route to Venezuela compliant with US sanctions

Dubai — A Saudi oil tanker heading to Venezuela has been chartered to pick up a cargo for a customer in India that will be delivered before US sanctions restricting international transactions with PDVSA fully go into force, the vessel's owner said Sunday.

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The VLCC Abqaiq, owned by Saudi national shipping company Bahri, was identified in an S&P Global Platts article on Friday, which noted the tanker is scheduled to arrive at Venezuela's Jose Terminal from the Saudi port of Yanbu on Monday, more than two weeks after the US announced sweeping sanctions on PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.

In a statement, Bahri said the Abqaiq was contracted on January 9 by a regular customer in India.

"The Abqaiq voyage is expected to be completed before the end of the exemption period allowed to wind down agreements," Bahri said. "Bahri strictly adheres to and ensures full compliance with the applicable laws and regulations in every market where it operates."

The sanctions, imposed January 28, allow non-US companies until April 28 to wind down any transactions with PDVSA that involve the US financial system or US commodity brokers.

Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US, but is also a fellow OPEC member with Venezuela.

The Platts report appears to have caught the eye of US Senator Marco Rubio, a top adviser to US President Donald Trump on Venezuela, who tweeted at Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry: "Why are you blatantly trying to undermine US efforts to support the people of Venezuela?"

Rubio's tweet referenced "a vessel from Saudi Arabia [that] will arrive Monday in Venezuela to sell [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro diluents that he will use to pump and sell crude and generate income for his corrupt regime."

Abqaiq is currently unladen, according to Platts trade flow software cFlow, and Bahri said the tanker is "in ballast condition with no cargo aboard."

The US sanctions, aimed at pressuring Maduro to step down, ban US shipments of diluent to Venezuela, whose extra heavy crude requires blending with naphtha or light crude to make it transportable.

The Abqaiq was just off the coast of St. Lucia early Sunday morning, according to cFlow.

It left Yanbu on the Red Sea on January 20, stopping for a day at the bunkering hub of Algeciras in Spain on January 30, before sailing towards Venezuela.

Bahri said that Venezuela is a "frequent loading destination" for its tankers, "delivering cargoes to ports in India and China."

-- Herman Wang,

-- Eklavya Gupte,

-- Edited by Geetha Narayanasamy,