Venezuela, beset by the strife of a more than two week old strike aimed at ousting controversial President Hugo Chavez
, has seen its oil production plummet
to less than 15 percent of normal levels, according to wire reports. Venezuela is ranked as the world's fifth largest crude exporter, and provides more than 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.
As of Wednesday, December 18, an estimated 40 ships were anchored off ports as international oil firms have been cautious to lift cargoes from replacement workers enlisted by Chavez to break the strike. Vessels attended by uncertified pilots or crews would incur insurance risks. Only a handful of ships, chartered by PDSVA and Citgo, have loaded and sailed since the state giant declared force majuere on exports nearly two weeks ago.