Six ships and three shipping companies have been hit with sanctions amid the latest US effort to cut off Venezuelan oil exports.

According to the US Treasury Department, the sextet — four with connections to Ukrainian firm Fides Ship Management and one each with connections to Russian outfit Rustanker and Venezuela's Instituto Nacional de Los Espacios Acuaticos e Insulares (INEA) — recently lifted Venezuelan oil.

"Those facilitating the illegitimate [Nicolas] Maduro regime’s attempts to circumvent United States sanctions contribute to the corruption that consumes Venezuela," Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

"The United States remains committed to targeting those enabling the Maduro regime’s abuse of Venezuela’s natural resources."

The ships, plus three individuals and 11 other companies, allegedly helped facilitate the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars in Venezuelan oil through a network run out of Malta and Switzerland.

The ships

Three of the vessels — the 76,000-dwt Balita (built 2000), 146,270-dwt Domani (built 1996) and 150,000-dwt Freedom (built 1993) — have Fides Ship Management listed as their commercial and technical managers.

The fourth — the 105,600-dwt Baliar (built 2000) — had that name for just a month, from June to July 2020, before being changed to Legacy. Fides Ship Management was listed as its manager from June 2020 to November 2020.

It is now owned by Panthea Marine and managed by Berylicious, all of which have the same Russian address.

All four ships are flagged in Cameroon. The Baliar was briefly flagged in Liberia.

The 321,000-dwt Maksim Gorky (built 2013) is listed on shipping databases as owned by "Venezuelan Govt INEA", with Moscow-based Transocean Shipping its commercial manager.

The 105,340-dwt Sierra (built 1998) is owned and managed by Kransnodar-based Rustanker.

The Domani was formerly the Gert Knutsen, the Knutsen Group-connected ship caught in a row over its cargo of nearly 1m barrels of oil early last year.

PDVSA, the heavily-sanctioned Venezuelan state oil company, wanted the ship to discharge after sitting in port for more than a year. Meanwhile, Citgo — PDVSA's refining arm — had two competing boards fighting over the cargo in the courts.

Fides Ship Management took over as manager in July 2020, with Galani Shipmanagement listed as the registered owner for a week — from 30 June 2020 until 7 July 2020— before Afreda Shipmanagement took over as owner.

Galani is a Marshall Islands company, while Afreda's listed address is the same as Fides Ship Management.

Emails to several Knutsen companies were not immediately returned.

The network

The US said Italian national Alessandro Bazzoni was the primary facilitator in the network alongside dual Spanish and Venezuelan citizen Francisco Javier D’Agostino Casado.

Also sanctioned was Swiss national Philipp Paul Vartan Apikian and his company, Geneva-based Swissoil Trading.

Bazzoni allegedly used his Elemento Oil and Gas, operating out of Malta, to buy oil from PDVSA and transfer it to third parties. Swissoil allegedly acted as the consignee of the shipments.

D'Agostino was said to have worked with PDVSA and two previously-sanctioned individuals to coordinate the sales.

In addition, Bazzoni's UK-based Elemento Solutions was sanctioned, plus Italian firms AMG SAS di Alessandro Bazzoni and Serigraphiclab di Bazzoni Alessandro.

The US also blacklisted D'Agostino's Zimbabwe-based Jambanyani Safaris, British Virgin Islands-incorporated Element Capital Advisors, Venezuela's D'Agostino & Co and New York-based firms Catalina Holdings and 82 Elm Realty.