An Iranian tanker carrying fuel has reached port in Venezuela amid escalating tensions between Washington and the two U.S.-sanctioned countries.
Iran’s English-language Press TV reported on May 25 that the vessel, the first of five Iran has sent to the South American country, moored at El Palito, a Venezuelan port run by state oil company PDVSA.
The ship-tracking service MarineTraffic also confirmed the arrival of the tanker.
“The Iranian oil/chem Handymax tanker, FORTUNE, which loaded 43 million liters of gasoline during mid-March at Port Shahid Rajaee, Iran, has now moored at berth 2 at the refinery of El Palito, Venezuela, situated [200 kilometers] west of capital city, Caracas,” tweeted TankerTrackers.com.
BREAKING NEWS: The Iranian oil/chem Handymax tanker, FORTUNE, which loaded 43 million liters of gasoline during mid-March at Port Shahid Rajaee, Iran, has now moored at berth 2 at the refinery of El Palito, Venezuela, situated west of capital city, Caracas. #OOTT @MarineTraffic pic.twitter.com/rvpbHsxnQl
— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) May 25, 2020
A second vessel, the Forest, entered the Caribbean Sea on May 23. The three other tankers are currently in the Atlantic en route to the same destination.
The five vessels have encountered no immediate signs of U.S. interference after Washington said earlier in May it was considering “measures” to take in response to the shipments, prompting warnings from Iran against U.S. action.
Venezuelan media on May 24 showed a navy ship and helicopter escorting the Fortune into Venezuela’s territorial waters as officials celebrated its arrival.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro praised solidarity and cooperation between his country and Iran, accusing the United States of imposing its will by force.
“Venezuela and Iran want peace and have the right to freely trade in the world’s seas and exchange products,” Maduro said on state television.
The five Iranian tankers are estimated to be carrying at least 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and chemical additives worth $45.5 million to help Venezuela relieve a gas shortage, one symptom of economic and political chaos in Latin America’s onetime largest oil producer.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions have targeted Iran and Venezuela’s oil industry and other sectors, depriving Tehran of much-needed cash and adding pressure on Venezuela’s badly managed economy.
“This is a sad reminder of Maduro’s hopeless mismanagement,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “Venezuelans need free and fair presidential elections leading to democracy and economic recovery, not Maduro’s expensive deals with another pariah state.”
The tensions over the tankers comes after the U.S. Navy in April accused Iran of harassing its ships in the Persian Gulf, the latest in a series of escalations between the two countries in the region since Washington in 2018 withdrew from a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The United States also recently deployed ships, including U.S. Navy destroyers and other combat ships, to patrol the Caribbean on what U.S. officials call a counternarcotics mission.
Maduro views the U.S. mission as a military threat.
Maduro, Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, and other Venezuelan officials have been named by the United States as narco-traffickers.