1 year later

Tarry wrack washes against the shore of Lake Maracaibo October 2009

Tarry wrack washes against the shore of Lake Maracaibo, the result of the constant oil spills into South America's second-largest lake. October 2009

Maracaibo’s maritime industry was nationalized a year ago. For workers, this was good news, as many provisional and part-time workers from private companies became full-time PDVSA employees, with a relatively good pay and benefits package. Unfortunately the result has been less favorable for the industry.

It used to be that when PDVSA, one of its joint ventures or a contractor needed, say, a crane, hauled out onto the lake to do a bit of maintenance work, they would call around to different barge companies, see who had time to do the job, and get the crane. Now, everyone calls the same number: PDVSA Servicios. PDVSA decides what job is most important and dispatches vessels based on the company’s own priority list. In theory this should be OK, as it’s in the company’s interest to conduct routine and preventative maintenance, to boost oil output, to rescue failing wells. But according to people who work at the lake, that’s not what happens.

Instead, they say, PDVSA hasn’t even maintained the vessels themselves. With a smaller fleet and a less contingent workforce, the company hasn’t got the boats or staff to do all the work that needs to be done. They prioritize emergencies above preventive maintenance, so it happens that companies send crews out to do maintenance work and then have to sit around waiting for hours or days for a piece of equipment to be hauled out onto the lake.

PDVSA vessel speeds past collapsing high-voltage tower on Lake Maracaibo, October 2009.

PDVSA vessel speeds past collapsing high-voltage tower on Lake Maracaibo, October 2009.

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