Venezuela's largest supertanker will now sail under Russian flag

The largest supertanker owned by Venezuela will sail under the Russian flag. This precedent follows from the Equasis database of marine vessels: out of more than 800 vessels that have ever flown the Venezuelan flag, there are merely occasional examples of their transition to another jurisdiction - Liberia or Panama.

The VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) tanker with a deadweight of 320,800 tons, formerly called Ayacucho (one of the Venezuelan cities is called Puerto Ayacucho), changed her name to Maxim Gorky in May 2020. According to Equasis, she was re-registered in the Russian register in June and sails under the Russian flag ever since. According to the Russian International Register of Vessels (RMRS), the supertanker was registered in Russia on May 27, 2020.

In 2013, Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) held a solemn ceremony to accept the new supertanker Ayacucho from the Chinese shipyard Bohai Shipbuilding. This vessel can hold 2 million barrels of oil. It is almost as big as an aircraft carrier.

The Ayacucho and three other supertankers were on the balance sheet of a Singaporean joint venture CV Shipping, owned by Venezuelan state-owned PDVSA and Chinese state-owned PetroChina. However, after the United States imposed sanctions on PDVSA and international insurers withdrew coverage for its ships, the Chinese partner initiated the bankruptcy of the Singapore joint venture. PetroChina took three tankers, but left the fourth, the Ayacucho, to Venezuela.

In March 2020, PDVSA transferred the tanker from Singapore under the Venezuelan flag. Afterwards, PDVSA handed the vessel over to the National Institute of Water Management (INEA) of Venezuela, a public organization that does not appear on the US sanctions list. However, in August 2019, the United States extended sanctions to the Venezuelan government, including any of its political divisions or agencies.

With the transfer of the vessel to INEA agency on May 27, the vessel changed its registration to the Russian one and was registered at the Big Port of St. Petersburg, as it follows from the data provided by Equasis and RMRS. The Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation subsequently confirmed the information.

The Russian register indicates the Moscow shipping company Transoceania the owner of the vessel. The company was established in early 2020 by INEA and Sovfrakht transport company, which currently operats under US sanctions for its activities in Crimea. Thus, Transoceania is automatically subject to US sanctions under the US Treasury's 50% rule. Transoceania does not manage any other vessels.

The Maxim Gorky has been staying in Venezuela's territorial waters since 2018. The tanker was used as a floating storage for oil. However, PDVSA filled it fully in July. Venezuela plans to send the ship for repairs to China to unload two million barrels of oil.

There are now 47 Venezuelan ships on the US sanctions list, but the vessel called "Maxim Gorky" does not appear there. However, since the tanker is owned by the sanctioned government agency of Venezuela and is de jure operated by the sanctioned company, it automatically falls under US restrictions as well. This may mean that the ship is most likely left without international insurance and certificates required for navigation in international waters and port calls.