GREAT BAY – Sigma Navigation Corporation has asked the court again permission to sell half a million barrels of oil belonging to the Venezuelan Company PDVSA Pertroleo S.A. that are currently stored in tank #51 at the Nustar terminal in Statia. The court pronounces its verdict on Friday morning.
The conflict between Sigma (and twelve other legal entities, all bases in Monrovia, Liberia, and PDVSA erupted in October of last year when Sigma put a lean on the tanker Columbus that was at the time anchored in the port of Statia.
Sigma put a lien on the tanker and its cargo because PDVSA failed to pay the monthly $900,000 lease fee for the vessel; in March the debt of the Venezuelan company to Sigma was around $20 million while the oil is valued at $21 million.
The court ruled in March that the cargo was allowed to be pumped into tank #51 at the Nustar terminal under the guarantee that Sigma’s lien preceded over Nustar’s warehouseman’s lien. After the oil was transferred to the tank, the Columbus left the port; the tanker had to go through a re-certification process.
According to Rob van Hees, the attorney for Sigma, those guarantees expire on September 23. “It is therefore necessary that the court takes a new measure. And that can only be the sale of the cargo.”
PDVSA owes Nustar $2.3 million per month for the lease of a 5 million barrel tank capacity and it has to hold 1 million barrels back as a guarantee for its financial obligations towards Nustar.
Van Hees said on Friday that the court has to intervene to secure the rights of Sigma. While PDVSA wants to sell the cargo to its daughter company Citgo in the United States, claiming that this would fetch a better price than a forced sale, Van Hees doubts that. “Citgo is a group company and it is more likely that it will pay below the market price. If Citgo is prepared to pay more than the market price, sigma is prepared to cooperate based on a sale ordered by the court.”
PDVSA’s attorney Hendrich Seferina noted Sigma has no urgent interest in a court ruling because the cargo is “safely stored” and because oil is not a perishable commodity. “We’re not talking about grapes from Namibia here,” he said.
Seferina said that Nustar’s guarantee that sigma’s lien proceeds over its own warehouseman’s lien is still in place and that therefore a sale is not necessary. “A forced sale fetches a lower price than a sale on the regular market.”
Van Hees noted that Nustar is not prepared to stick to the guarantee after September 23. And he furthermore noted that Sigma is currently paying $155,000 a year to insure the cargo against loss.
The dispute is also in court in Great Britain. Seferina: “If the court in England does not see an urgent interest, why would that be the case here?”