A recent robbery to the oil platform Xux-A, located in the southeast of the Gulf of Mexico, paralyzed the production in oil wells of Pemex and caused a loss of 40,000 barrels a day of crude oil as well as a millionth in material goods that ended up to the black market.
SIX BOATS travel at 11 knots -11 nautical miles per hour. With parsimony, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are plowing. As they move, they barely lift the tight swell that opens and closes. Fibreglass and painted white, aquamarine and sky blue, the boats are similar to those used by river fishermen; only that they have adapted powerful turbocharged engines outboard, which reach between 200 and 500 horsepower.
At first glance, their crew could pass through poachers: they wear civilian clothes and wear caps in an area where only “people” who wear uniforms and specialized equipment enter “legally”. This, according to the protocol to be able to work in this stretch of the gulf where it is explored, extract and produce hydrocarbons. Only, unlike the fishermen, the crew of these six boats do wear special boots that protect them from slipping or skidding while on board a nautical device.
Moreover, unlike the fishermen who enter the high seas -passing the limits allowed with their networks anxious to catch shrimp, snooks, mojarras or cazones that they market to survive-, the travellers of these six boats have an entirely different purpose: to devalue oil platforms.
It is about 20 men distributed three and four by boat, aboard the six barges that, the morning of May 19, sailed from Puerto Frontera, on the coast of Tabasco, where commercial docks, fishing, Petroleos converge Mexicanos (Pemex) and private companies.
In nautical slang, they are known as guateros. They sail to the northeast, between the mansedad of the waters that gives the last month of spring. Officially, this area of the Gulf is reinforced by the armed forces and federal police groups so, as the boats enter an area restricted to fishermen and any vessel other than the oil industry, it would be assumed that they should stop them, in an area classified as national security. This will not happen. The Pemex Control Tower should be warned of its presence and, in theory, its passage to the platform area should be stopped. This will not happen either.
As if they were invisible in the eyes of authorities, managers and special (physical security personnel) of Pemex, the boats will advance more than ten kilometers beyond Puerto Frontera heading to the oil fields. And without any obstacle, they will maneuver until they enter the Xux field: one of the most important deposits of gas and condensate discovered by Pemex just at the end of 2009 and which began to be exploited this six-year term.
A new looting in the Gulf of Mexico will occur in broad daylight and without any stoppage. Based on interviews with various witnesses, first-hand review of information and communications between Pemex officials -including the Marine Control area and port areas of the Ministry of Communications and Transportation-, Newsweek en Español was able to reconstruct the most recent attacks on platforms oil companies of Petróleos Mexicanos. It also obtained, exclusively, graphic material with which the illicit of last May is registered, where the theft of the Xux-A platform is documented, as well as photographs that record previous robberies on the Tsimin platform, in the same area of the Gulf.
In the territorial waters of the Gulf of Mexico is the Xux: one of the fields of the so-called shallow waters. It is located on the edges of the southwestern portion of the Akal Tectonic Pital, only ten kilometres away from Puerto Frontera and 55 kilometres from the Dos Bocas Maritime Terminal.
Octopod-type drilling rigs – called Xux-A and Xux-B – drill 14 wells that are highly productive in hydrocarbons and have good quality gas and condensate. These platforms cost Pemex more than 400 million pesos each, according to data from bids 18575106-521-11 and 18575106-522-11, through which they were acquired. They were built exprofeso by the companies Evya and Construcciones Mecánicas Monclova and were put into operation in 2014; that is, because of their useful life, they are practically new.
On May 19, when the launches with the crew dressed in civilian clothes approached the Xux, they slowed down to the side of the Xux-A platform, which is 15 meters wide.
Once the bow of the first boat touched the legs of the first boat, the rest of the barges stopped. They turned off their engines and were left floating while some of the crew were tied with harnesses and crawled skillfully by the legs of the platform, carrying tools. Once on deck, the harnesses were removed and they began to unscrew, desolder and tear out equipment and materials. While some disassembled structures of the tracks of anaviaje, lights of navigation, valves and pipe, others took them to the boats. Nobody stopped them.
The Xux are platforms that Pemex identifies as “satellite”. This means that they do not have permanent personnel on board, although they are monitored permanently from the Control Tower and in physical reviews directly. They are also the newest equipment that the Mexican oil industry has and that has become the main target of theft.
After having taken the materials of their interest, the guateros again tied themselves to the harnesses and descended towards the boats. The stolen materials and equipment were so many that, already arranged in the boats could not be covered by plastic tarpaulins. Thus, in broad daylight, with half-covered cargo, the boats returned, without any interruption, to the officially “armoured” seas.
According to information from operational personnel in the area to which they had access, the materials stolen on the Xux-A platform stopped production at the wells and caused a loss of 40,000 barrels per day of crude oil, which could amount to about 2 million 600,000 dollars a day, if one considers the reference price of a barrel of Mexican oil, which averages 65 dollars per day.
That Saturday, still in spring, after desvalijar the platform, and given the great weight that transported, the men of the boats returned slowly to the coast. His road ended in the area of Puerto Chiltepec, in the vicinity of the Barra de Chiltepec, in the municipality of Paraíso, Tabasco, where there are several channels and berths for fishing and recreational boats, which once had a boom in fluvial commerce. , mainly of cocoa. A trailer awaited them to unload and secure Xux-A’s equipment and then move it to the yards of a piece of land located in the same area of the river.
The stolen merchandise was, in turn, redistributed: navigation lights and communication equipment moved to Mexico City; the valves and other equipment were taken to “the maquiladora” -a workshop that operates in Paraíso. They tried to give their “monkey hand” to the pieces and equipment stolen from the oil platforms, that is, clean and repaint them for resale – as if they were new.
The criminal group dedicated to the theft of parts to platforms of Pemex has a second similar maquiladora in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. And the rest of materials are usually sold as scrap at a differentiated rate (type A, type B, type C) according to their quality.
The materials of the oil platforms – that the criminals commercialize to private companies that are dedicated to manufacturing, to remake or to fuse those materials – are paid according to their physical conditions: type A is the clean material, that must not have anything stuck, nor welding or nothing; the material B are tubes, which must be clean; and the material C is classified as chipping, and it is the one that has been welded or has some perforation.
The theft of equipment and materials to offshore oil platforms has become a very lucrative business for criminal groups operating in the Gulf of Mexico. For example, only the navigation aid lights stolen in the Xux-A in the May 19 robbery cost $ 159,632; that is, little more than 3 million pesos.
It should be remembered that the structure of the anaviage track that was removed from the Tsimin platform between the night of October 31 and the morning of November 1 – a theft that was revealed by Newsweek en Español in its No. 46 edition – is worth 641,000 dollars, almost 13 million pesos. In this installment, photographic material that shows damage due to the theft of other equipment on the same platform is presented.
While the Xux-A is the latest theft to a Pemex platform, this type of crime began to be recorded in 2008. As documented by Newsweek en Español last November, there are criminal groups that have been around for a decade operating in the place.
Interviews to workers of the oil platforms in the area, of private companies based in the ports of Dos Bocas, Puerto Frontera and Puerto Chiltepec, and access to confidential information, provided by federal authorities, attribute the operation to an organized group that is engaged to the theft of materials and equipment to platforms of the Gulf of Mexico – and that supposedly is linked to the Zetas. In this would participate several members of families settled in Chiltepec. In fact, one of its leaders is identified with the nickname of Shichito.
Chiltepec is a small village and fishing port that has less than a thousand inhabitants and belongs to the municipality of Paraíso; is located 18 kilometres from the municipal seat, and 98 from Villahermosa, capital of Tabasco.
The referred group allegedly operates land and warehouses adjacent to the ports of Dos Bocas, Chiltepec and Frontera. One of these lands would be located in the vicinity of the Paraíso-Comalcalco highway, where panels and equipment “very similar” were kept to those between the night of October 31 and the morning of November 1, 2017, they were dispossessed of the Tsimin platforms, as revealed exclusively in this medium.
This group uses boats similar to those of river fishermen but with powerful outboard motors. The platforms converted into targets for their robberies are mostly platforms that Pemex identifies as “satellite” and that do not have permanent personnel on board – although they must be permanently monitored – and, in addition, the Pemex Control Tower registers everything that occurs in every platform and maritime artifact in the Gulf; that is, any type of boat.
On the platforms, the robbers deprive of the tracks of anaviaje to the lights of navigation that in a platform are some of the most expensive equipment. Also, pumps, valves, boards and even wiring and copper. Each equipment or material is of great interest to the black market.
The teams usually lower them in boats to riparian zones, in the three ports already mentioned, and the materials that are stolen are kept in warehouses and spaces arranged in the port area where the classification for sale is made.
According to Pemex internal sources, equipment such as navigation lights are then taken to Mexico City, where buyers are already present. The valves are being “reformed”, that is, they are calibrated and rejuvenated in two workshops -the one in Paraíso and the one in Coatzacoalcos- and then resold to contractor companies. These companies, based in Campeche and Tabasco, in turn, use them for their equipment or resell them to Pemex. The rest of the materials are sold as scrap in both Tabasco and Veracruz.
In recent months, not only the platforms that Pemex has in the Gulf of Mexico are the target of their robberies, but the companies in the Tabasco area that build oil platforms. These companies have had to increase their security, particularly in Paradise.
The person in charge of the operations area of one of these companies, who have built platforms for Pemex, explains: “They operate as a group always, minimum of 15 to 20, the bars are skipped, and they take everything they can. A few months ago here every night they got in and destroyed what they found in the courtyards. Once they took a reel more than two meters wide that brought 150 meters of cable 5 centimetres wide, bridging the walls; they all loaded it and took it away. Here it was decided to hire private security, and there they watch from the turrets, but even with that we have not been able to stop the robberies, “he reveals.
The Xux camp, the target of the most recent robbery, is part of what Pemex administratively calls the Tsimin-Xux Project, which is one of the operational projects that in this six-year period are identified as strategic in the southeast region of the Gulf of Mexico.
In this region, there are 19 platforms: Xux-A, Xux-B, Tsimin-A, Tsimin A-1, Tsimin A-2, Tsimin-A-3, CA-Tsimin-A, HA-Tsimin-A, Tsimin-B , Tsimin-C, Tsimin-D, May-A, CB-Litoral-A, PB-Litoral-A, CA-Litoral-A, PB-Litoral-T, HA-LT-A, HA-LT-A2, E -Litoral-A, connected between pipelines, gas pipelines and oil pipelines.
Internal information of Pemex, to which this medium had access, identifies thefts to platforms in this area as well as fields in Cantarell.
Among the platforms that have been the target of robberies since 2008, with an incidence more and more frequent since 2016, are the Yaxché-Bravo, Litoral Tabasco, Litoral-A, Kab-A, Kix-2, Sinan-SO, Akal- N, Tsimin-A, Tsimin-B, Tsimin-C, Tsimin-D, Akal-N, Xux-B, May-A, Xux-A, Manik-A, Balam, Etkal-101, Tumut-A, Kuil- A, Chuc-B, Bolontiku-A.
Some of these platforms have been looted several times. The most violated have been the Bolontiku-A platforms, which already has seven robberies – four in 2016 and three in 2017-; Tsimin-A – trapped five times – and May-A – three times.
In 2016, 38 robberies were recorded; in 2017 the number of robberies amounted to 103. And this year there have been a score of robberies to the platforms. The most recent: the one from Xux-A.
In the Gulf of Mexico, there are 235 oil platforms offshore. Around these, there is a minimum restriction of a distance of 200 meters and even in some polygons of up to 49 kilometres for any boat other than oil activity, including fishing. Taking advantage of the fact that many fishermen defy the fences entering fishing, now the platform robbers mostly use that same type of vessel as a front, to sneak into the area to commit their illicit activities.
Newsweek en Español presents exclusive photographs where the alleged looters are seen coming out with the stolen equipment in both the Xux-A happened just this May 19, as well as the thefts in the Tsimin platform in which boats similar to those used in the robbery to the Xux-A.
The photographs show the robbery of the Tsimin-C platform: four men dressed in civilian clothes, two of them wearing red shirts and caps, who arrived aboard the boat, two of them climbed on the platform, disconnected equipment that their accomplices they helped them to load and together the four returned with their loaded boat to the Maritime Terminal of Dos Bocas, 62 kilometers away from the Tsimin field.
CLASSIFIES SEMAR ROBOS
The internal area of the Navy-Navy Secretariat of Mexico (Semar) has identified a series of illegal activities that occur in the Sonda de Campeche and the Tabasco coastline, and that is detailed in an internal document classified as “Confidential”, to which access this medium. In order of incidence, Pemex’s theft to maritime facilities is identified:
“A common illicit is the theft of material and equipment on offshore platforms, particularly banks of batteries or valves and pipes. This theft causes the platforms are not well enabled, which facilitates a boat can approach and steal the material and equipment.
In second order of incidence, the traffic or fuel theft is identified:
“The traffic is carried out illegally between vessels contracted by Pemex for different services related to the Sonda de Campeche and ships from Central American countries that sell fuel in their countries of origin.
It has also been detected that national fishing vessels receive fuel illegally, in order to reduce their operating costs or even profit from the sale of fuel to organized crime.
It is also known to the Semar that during the supply of fuel to the platforms for their operation, the quantities that are delivered are altered, and the ships are left with surplus fuel that they later sell illegally “.
Illegal fishing is also identified in the vicinity of platforms, that is, less than 500 meters from them:
“Although the fishing and the traffic of ships and vessels in the Campeche probe have been restricted, it is common for both vessels and fishing vessels to enter the area, which, in addition to hindering the operation of the vessels providing services, puts risk the lives of the infringing fishermen, which can be rammed by a ship that is performing its maneuvers or when they commit this illicit in conditions of restricted visibility. This illegal activity also puts facilities such as oil and gas pipelines at risk. ”
The trafficking of illicit goods is then cited:
“This traffic is carried out, among other ways, in supply vessels to the area of the platforms, into which illegal goods are introduced, which may thus go unnoticed when mixed with the legal merchandise.”
Newsweek en Español requested an interview with the directors of Pemex to talk about the thefts of oil platforms. Until press time, there was no response.
Source: News Week Espanol