Mexico to invite oil and gas investment

Troubled waters: An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 March 2020

Mexico to invite oil and gas investment

  • Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico has pursued a more statist approach to the energy sector and suspended auctions of oil fields

ACAPULCO: Mexico will soon invite private firms to invest in oil and gas projects to help a flagging economy hit by the fallout of coronavirus, Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said on Wednesday, but cautioned energy auctions were not on the cards for now.

Herrera said a long-awaited energy plan will be unveiled soon that will detail where and how much private firms can invest.

“It’s not just a general outline, we’re going to tell them this project here, here and here, this amount and size is open to investment,” Herrera said in an interview on the sidelines of a banking conference in Acapulco.

Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico has pursued a more statist approach to the energy sector and suspended auctions of oil fields.

Lopez Obrador said last week that the energy plan could be unveiled in March, after weeks of delays. The balance of public and private investment the plan will aim for has not been clear because of differences of opinion in the cabinet over energy policy.

Also last week, Mexico’s private sector presented the government with a broad package of proposed energy investments worth almost $92 billion. Herrera’s comments suggest at least some of those proposals could be adopted.

Some members of the government believe attracting more private capital is vital for lifting growth and that restarting auctions would send a strong message to investors that Mexico is open for business.

But Herrera said that even auctions for joint venture projects with state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) were not viable, after a rout in oil markets this week caused by a drop in fuel demand from the coronavirus outbreak and the collapse of a production cutting deal between major producers.

He said that he did not “think it makes sense considering where oil prices are.”

Prices fell again on Thursday amid a broader market drop after the US restricted travel from Europe following a declaration that the coronavirus outbreak is now a pandemic.

Layla Vargas, director of energy consultancy Muvoil Consulting, said that while some oil companies may view Herrera’s invitation with skepticism in the current economic climate, the right terms could attract them.

“What the country needs right now is investment,” Vargas said.


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.