Venezuela has said that it will nationalize 11 oil rigs owned by a US company.
The takeover of the rigs, owned by the Helmerich and Payne oil firm,
is the most recent move in a program of nationalization as part of
the socialist 'Bolivarian revolution' of Hugo Chavez, the president.
The rigs have been out of use for months due to a dispute over payments by PDVSA, the state oil company.
and Payne, which owns other rigs in the country, had said that it would
not work at the sites until they were paid the $49 million it was owed.
It did not immediately comment on the planned nationalization.
Ramirez, the Venezuelan oil minister, said on Thursday that the
facilities were being taken over to bring them back into production.
Ramirez said that firms like Helmerich and Payne who had refused to
put their rigs into production were aiming to weaken the government.
"There is a group of drill owners that has refused to discuss
tariffs and services with PDVSA and have preferred to keep this
equipment stored for a year," he said.
"That is the specific case with US multinational Helmerich and Payne."
Venezuela has suffered a reduction in oil output since 2008.
Despite having significant oil reserves the country is undergoing
economic struggles, with power shortages and low food
resources affecting Chavez's promises to pull people out of poverty.
His government has nationalized telecommunications, power and steel firms during the last three years.
The government also nationalized Banco Federal, a mid-sized bank,
last week giving the state control of 25 per cent of the banking sector.
Legislative elections are to be held in September and Chavez needs
to reverse popularity losses due to Venezuela's recession before then
Oil-giants such as Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes
also work in Venezuela, although the former pair have avoided public
disputes with the government.