14ymedio, Havana, 7 June 2023 — Every day, more than ten tanker trucks with the Unión Cuba-Petróleo (Cupet) logo depart from the Cienfuegos refinery and embark on a long route that takes them to Matanzas, passing through the municipalities of Palmira, Cruces, Lajas, El Diamante and Aguada de Pasajeros. The journey of 121 miles takes more than three hours. At the end of the road they wait at the demolished Supertanker Base – which burned down in August 2022 and is in the reconstruction phase with the support of Venezuela – along with several oil tankers, whose origin and destination are not reported by the regime.
It is necessary to resort to ship tracking applications, the data revealed by international agencies and, above all, to observation on the ground to reconstruct the important oil circuit that connects Cienfuegos with Matanzas: every two hours a Cupet tanker truck leaves the refinery, loaded with about 6,604 gallons of petroleum derivatives sent by Venezuela, and its trail is lost in the Matanzas terminals.
However, the path of the trucks and the frantic movement of oil tankers in Cuban ports continues to demand an explanation. Where is the oil that is brought from Cienfuegos currently stored, after the partial destruction of the Supertanker Base in 2022? Where is the refined fuel shipped in Cuba? Why doesn’t the country – which seems to be entering a new stage of blackouts – benefit from the trade of the nearly two million barrels of oil that arrive every month from Venezuela and also from Russia, Mexico and Algeria, in addition to the heavy crude oil from national production that is used in thermoelectric plants?
One of the custodians of the Cienfuegos refinery tells 14ymedio that the facilities process the heavy oil that ships with the Cuban flag, such as the Vilma and the Delsa, brought from the Venezuelan port of José. “Then it is sent to the Matanzas tanks, and stored as a ’state reserve’ while between 10% and 20% is mixed with Cuban crude, which has a very high sulfur content and high viscosity,” he says. All the work is carried out “under strong surveillance.”
In addition, Cupet uses trains with 14 tanker cars whose destination is also the Mantanzas base. Some of the vehicles, in addition, are diverted to Cabaiguán, in Sancti Spíritus, where there is a small refinery, he adds.
This Wednesday, four oil tankers were anchored in the bay of Matanzas, and the arrival of a fifth ship was expected. These are the Limo (from Ust-Luga, in Russia), the Marianna V.V. (from Venezuela), the Aquila (with the Panamanian flag and from Santiago de Cuba) and the Primula (with the Belize flag and that made a stopover in Moa, Holguín), while the tanker Nicos I.V., with the flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, will arrive in Matanzas on Thursday, after several weeks without declaring its real position.
The influx of ships in the Matanzas terminal and the efforts of the Cuban government to hide the traffic no longer surprise anyone. At the beginning of May, for example, the oil tanker Calida, registered in Malta, docked at the deep-water port of Matanzas. After transmitting images of another ship, Cuban Television reported that it would unload 40,000 tons of diesel and claimed that the authorities had paid $29 million for the fuel, but did not indicate the origin of the product or reveal who had been paid.
The same strategy is followed with almost all the tankers that dock in other ports on the Island, in particular in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Mariel, where port activity has been increasing for several months.
As for the five oil tankers that operate under the Cuban flag – Vilma, Alicia, Sandino, Delsa and Pastorita – they usually move between the Venezuelan port of José and the bay of Jagua, in Cienfuegos, or from one terminal to another on the Island.
Researcher Jorge Piñón, from the University of Texas, informed 14ymedio about the amount of crude oil that each of these ships transported to the Island in May. The Vilma – a ship that disappears from the radar as soon as it approaches the Cuban coast – arrived in Cienfuegos on June 1st with 390,000 barrels of crude oil from José; the same amount was loaded by the Delsa, also from José, to the port of Antilla, on the 30th.
For its part, the Sandino sailed from José with 440,000 barrels to the bay of Nipe, in Holguín, where it arrived on May 5. The Alicia took 290,000 barrels from José to Havana on May 16 and another 295,000, from another Venezuelan terminal, Amuay, on the 28th.
When comparing these figures with those revealed by the Reuters agency last week, the total number of barrels of crude oil that arrived on the Island during the month of May – about 58,000 per day – coincides, says Piñón.
In its usual monthly report on the commercial activities of Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., the British agency detected a 14% drop in that country’s total exports in May compared to the previous month, but Havana was again saved from the cuts.
In an interview with TV Martí, Piñón recalled on Wednesday that Cuba lost one million barrels of storage during the fire in Matanzas and that, given the need to make room to store the 800,000 barrels of high-quality crude oil that arrived on the Island from Russia, it is likely that the loads of two of the oil tankers from Venezuela have been resold. The crude oil, he said, was too heavy for the Cienfuegos refinery to process and took up too much space.
Meanwhile, the repair of the Matanzas Supertanker Base predicts that Cuba is preparing at full speed for an increase in oil traffic. The official press announced on Wednesday that the repair of tank 88 will be undertaken, which will be ready in April 2024. The Petroleum Maintenance Company (Empet) placed the first steel plates of the tank, which will have an internal floating aluminum membrane and a geodesic dome. It is expected to be able to store 50,000 cubic meters [13,208,603 liquid gallons] of fuel.
In anticipation of fires, they explain, an “automated system” will be built that the Government of Vietnam paid for with a donation of $250,000. In addition, they plan to place only two tanks in the place previously occupied by the four original tanks, in order to increase the safety distance.
Havana is also betting on the “generosity” of Moscow, which has sent several loads of hydrocarbons and is in the process of extending its business with the Island. The Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, promised Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero on Wednesday “the execution of large joint projects” concerning oil. In the resort of Sochi, facing the Black Sea, the head of the Cuban government gave his blessing to a new offer from the Kremlin for “the increase in oil production in Cuban deposits.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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