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EXCLUSIVE-First diesel cargo in six months arrives in Venezuela -sources

MARACAY, Venezuela, May 27 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s first diesel imports since November arrived this week aboard the tanker Bueno, carrying almost 500,000 barrels of fuel desperately needed by farmers and truckers in the sanction-hit country, according to a shipping document and two sources.

It was not immediately clear who provided the fuel and the type of diesel the tanker carries.

Even though U.S. sanctions allow fuel imports by Venezuela under humanitarian exceptions, lawyers consulted by Reuters said companies need a specific authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department.

The U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment. A spokesperson for the State Department said U.S. policy on diesel swaps linked to Venezuela has not changed. “Those that participate in such transactions remain at risk of exposure to our sanctions,” the person said.

Venezuela in recent years has become reliant on imported gasoline and diesel to compensate for state-run oil firm PDVSA’s insufficient domestic production.

Until the last quarter of 2020, when U.S. officials ordered the companies involved to halt diesel supplies, most imports of the fuel by Venezuela arrived in the OPEC-member nation as swaps for crude oil with PDVSA’s customers. Venezuela’s main diesel supplier until November was India’s Reliance Industries under a U.S.-authorized swap.

Diesel has since become the second motor fuel rationed in Venezuela, along with gasoline, forcing drivers to line up for hours to fill their tanks, a difficult task for farmers and companies using trucks for distribution of food and medicine.

The Bueno, a Djibouti-flagged tanker, arrived on Sunday near Venezuela’s Amuay port. It finished discharging a first parcel of the diesel on Wednesday via ship-to-ship transfer there, and it later moved to the terminal to unload its remaining content, according to the maritime document, a photo of the vessel seen by Reuters and sources with knowledge of the shipment.

The cargo was inspected by PDVSA officials on Monday, one of the sources said.

The vessel departed from Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates in mid-April and passed the Suez Canal in early May before turning off its transponder and signaling the Lome port in Togo as its destination, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

PDVSA did not reply to a request for comment. Turkey-based Expanse Ship Management, which according to maritime database Equasis in April became the owner and operator of the tanker, could not be reached for comment.

Diesel shortages have grown acute since 2020 in the once prosperous nation, which is mired in a humanitarian crisis after years of hyperinflation and recession.

Critics and many farmers say U.S. sanctions are not the root cause of the scarcity. PDVSA’s malfunctioning refining network is operating at a fraction of its capacity. Shortly after Venezuela received its last diesel cargo in November, the agriculture ministry began to ration the fuel.

Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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