Cuba to build docks, new terminal by 2014 as part of plan to modernize Soviet-era oil refinery

By Andrea Rodriguez, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Cuba to add new docks, terminal at Cienfuegos port

HAVANA — Cuba will build three additional loading docks and a terminal large enough to accommodate modern supertankers by 2014 at its port in Cienfuegos, part of the communist government’s effort with Venezuela to rehabilitate and modernize the area’s oil refinery.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a self-described socialist and close friend of Fidel Castro, attended the December 2007 re-inauguration of the Soviet-era facility on central Cuba’s southern coast, and since then it has refined 55 million barrels.

Cuba and Venezuelan plan to expand capacity there to 150,000 barrels refined per day and the new berths and terminal will ensure tankers carrying more oil can come and go more freely, said Luis Medina, director of Cuba’s national port authority, at a news conference Friday in Havana, 185 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Cienfuegos.

Chavez’s government ships more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba in exchange for island doctors who provide free medical care in his country and other social services. The expanded capacity at Cienfuegos will allow Venezuela to ship more petroleum products that can be refined on the island.

Cuba independently operates its largest oil field, the Varadero field discovered by Russian scientists in 1971, but the communist government relies on energy companies from Canada, Spain, Norway, India, Malaysia and China for other drilling operations.

The government has laid out zones in the Gulf of Mexico where private energy companies, mostly from Canada and Europe, have said they could one day drill deep-water test wells searching for crude.

A 2004 test well by a Spanish company was not considered commercially viable, however, and Washington’s 48-year-old trade embargo prohibits U.S. companies from investing in Cuban oil exploration and production, even though the island’s Gulf waters are close to the Florida coast.

A meeting of U.S., Mexican and Cuban scientists wrapped up Wednesday in Sarasota, Florida, with an outline for a plan to better protect the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean through collaborative management and conservation.

It includes actions that scientists in each country will undertake to conserve coral reefs, marine mammals, sea turtles and shark and other fish populations. Examples include a regional monitoring protocol for sea turtles to make sure results are compatible among nations and continued research expeditions focused on sharks.

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