Venezuela turns to dark fleet to supply oil to Cuba

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By LatAm Reports Staff Writers

Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, has begun using tankers sailing off the radar to supply its closest political ally, Cuba, as the fleet of state vessels that have historically covered the route is diminished, according to documents and ship monitoring services.

Cuba and its main oil supplier, Venezuela, had for more than a decade exclusively used its own ships to sail between the two countries.

But delays in maintenance have left some ships out of service and the emergence of Mexico as Cuba’s new supplier, using some of the same tankers, make the ships available insufficient to transport the oil and fuel the island desperately needs.

Much of the fleets of boats owned by Venezuela and Cuba are under U.S. sanctions, which also limits their travels. Operated by third parties, dark fleet tankers often lack insurance in the West and send false location signals to disguise their movements.

In June, PDVSA began embarking plots of crude oil and fuel oil that it delivers in part in Cuban waters and the remaining volumes continue its route from there to destinations in Asia, according to the company’s maritime documents.

The ships alter their signal, making them look like they’re in other parts of the Caribbean while unloading in Cuba, often through boat-to-ship transfers, according to monitoring service and a satellite photograph of Planet Labs seen by Reuters.

One of the tankers, the Panama-flagged Neptune 6, was last week near Nipe Bay in Cuba, transferring heavy crude oil and Venezuelan fuel to the Cuban-flagged vessel Esperanza, according to documents and photographs analyzed by

The ship’s transmitter has been targeting a location north of Curacao since late May, according to LSEG data.

PDVSA and the foreign ministries of Venezuela and Cuba did not comment. It was not immediately clear whether the use of third-party vessels to supply Cuba is temporary.

You need barrels

The additional ships could help boost the supply of Venezuelan oil to Cuba, which so far this year stands at about 27,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared to 51,500 bpd in the same period of 2023.

The aid comes as demand for electricity produced by oil-fired plants skyrockets during the hot summer of Cuba.

Blackouts that were occasional in Cuba have become routine as there are limits on imported supply and logistical problems that complicate the national distribution of fuel to its aging power plants.

Cuban energy officials have said workers are fine-tuning and maintaining power plants ahead of the summer demand peak, and expect fewer blackouts to occur in the coming months.

Cuba has not been able to fully recover its oil storage capacity since a devastating fire destroyed part of the island’s largest oil terminal in Matanzas. The lack of tanks forces some suppliers to transfer cargo to other ships used by Cuba as floating storage.

In May, Mexican oil state-owned Pemex resumed shipments of crude oil to Cuba after a three-month pause in the same tankers used to ship oil from Venezuela, Reuters reported.

This article has been translated after first appearing in El Mundo