Seven Venezuela oil workers arrested over refinery outage, sources say

PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Seven Venezuelan oil workers have been detained by military counterintelligence officers following an outage at a unit of state oil company PDVSA's 310,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Cardon refinery, according to eight sources familiar with the matter.

The arrests took place last week after workers attempted to restart the 45,000-bpd reformer unit, which produces octane blending components used to create motor fuels. The failed restart damaged one of the plant’s compressors, the sources said, adding that the detainees could face terrorism charges.

"It’s the same formula they use for everyone: terrorism and sabotage,” said one worker at the Paraguana Refining Center (CRP), which is made up of the neighboring Cardon and Amuay refineries. The worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, added that refineries are under pressure to restart equipment due to fuel shortages in the country.

PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among those arrested were Cardon process maintenance manager Lenin Martinez, mechanical maintenance leader Juan Mukarssel, and special equipment engineer Wilmer Amaya, according to sources.

"We started asking questions until they told us he was in the DGCIM,” Amaya’s daughter, Merlin, said in an interview, referring to the acronym for the military counterintelligence agency.

Harold Guerrero, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the workers were taken to Caracas to face terrorism charges.

Years of underinvestment and mismanagement of PDVSA’s refineries have left gasoline increasingly scarce, creating long fuel lines around the country. The problem has grown more acute under U.S. sanctions, which restrict PDVSA’s fuel exports and block swaps of crude oil for fuel.

Cardon and Amuay together have a refining capacity of 955,000 bpd.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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