Columbus-cargo to be pumped into NuStar bunker



~ Court breaks oil tanker stalemate ~

GREAT BAY – The Court in First Instance allows the Venezuelan oil company PdVSA Petreleo S.A. to pump $20 million worth of crude oil that is currently on board the NS Columbus tanker in the port of Statia, into bunkers of NuStar on the island.

NuStar and PdVSA must however offer written guarantees that the lien the Sigma Navigation Corporation – the company that has a multi-million dollar claim on PdVSA – has placed on the oil will be respected.

Sigma has filed a procedure with the High Court (Queens Bench Division, commercial court) in London asking for permission to sell the oil. A decision from this court is expected around April 10.

PdVSA chartered the NS Columbus from Sigma in 2013 for $29,387 per day. On October 20 of last year sigma put a lien on the Columbus and its cargo when the tanker was in the port of Statia, because PdVSA had run up charter fee arrears of $2.7 million. Other shipowners that are part of the same shipping company, Sovcomflot, also placed a lien on the oil. The total claim of all ship owners on PdVSA is around $30 million. The value of the cargo on board the Columbus is around $20 million.

Since October 20 of last year the Columbus is chained up in Statia. The ship has to be recertified by May 22, one more reason for PdVSA to want to pump the oil into a NuStar bunker. Sigma does not want that: it demands permission to sell the oil.

The court in St. Maarten does not want to take a decision about the sale of the cargo, because of the procedure in the British court that will reach its conclusion next month.

The court reached however a decision about pumping the oil into a NuStar bunker, ruling that the continued lien is disproportionate because this way PdVSA is unable to use the tanker, while the rental fees continue every day.

The court ruled that NuStar and PdVSA have to guarantee Sigma and the other ship owners that they will respect the lien on the oil. NuStar has to guarantee the ship owners that it has sufficient funds to keep the oil in storage for at least six months.

Because the court cannot exclude that the lien Sigma has on the oil will become void once the oil is pumped into a NuStar bunker, it ruled that PdVSA has to guarantee that it will not use the situation as an argument in the arbitration procedure in the British court by claiming that the lien has expired. NuStar has to guarantee that the Sigma lien supersedes NuStar’s warehouse lien.

As soon as NuStar and OPdVSA have made these commitments in writing, Sigma has to cooperate with pumping the oil into a NuStar bunker.