Venezuela to buy 18 oil tankers from China

Venezuela has signed a US$1.3 billion (Ђ1 billion) deal with China to buy 18 oil tankers to help the world's fifth-largest petroleum exporter increase crude shipments to rapidly growing Asian markets.

Officials from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, reached the deal with China State Shipbuilding Corp. and China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. during a recent visit to the Asian country, PDVSA said in a statement Wednesday.

Under the agreement, China will also help build shipyards in Venezuela and train Venezuelan personnel. PDVSA did not say whether the tankers will be built in China or Venezuela.

Venezuela exports about 15 percent of its crude and other oil products to Asia but seeks to raise that to 45 percent by 2012, PDVSA said.

Under President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has fostered closer ties with China as it seeks new markets for its oil beyond the United States its top buyer.

China is the world's second-largest consumer of oil and third-biggest importer.

China National Petroleum Corp. signed a one-year supply contract with PDVSA for 160,000 barrels a day in late 2005.

It is also helping quantify and certify heavy crude reserves in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco tar belt and has signed a preliminary agreement to jointly develop the Zumano oil and gas fields in eastern Venezuela.

PDVSA announced last year that it would spend US$2.2 billion (Ђ1.7 billion) to more than triple its fleet of tankers to 58 by 2012 so that it can ship more oil and gas to Asian and other markets.

PDVSA said Wednesday it has agreements with Brazil for 10 tankers and with Argentina for two more, reports AP.

O.Ch.