This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A second Iranian tanker carrying gasoline and oil derivatives has arrived at crisis-stricken Venezuela’s main oil refinery, amid escalating tensions between Washington and the two U.S.-sanctioned countries.
The Forest docked at the Paraguana refinery complex in northwest Falcon state on May 26, Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami wrote on Twitter, also sharing photos of the vessel at the dock.
Data from the website Marine Traffic confirmed the location of the ship, which entered Venezuelan waters on May 25.
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.
The Paraguana refinery, the largest in Venezuela and one of the largest in the world, can process 950,000 barrels of fuel per day, but its production has plummeted alongside the country’s crude supply.
Falling oil prices since 2014 have aggravated Venezuela’s economic crisis.
The price of Venezuelan crude fell to its lowest level in more than two decades last month, at less than $10 a barrel, according to the country’s government, after averaging $56.70 last year.
The first tanker, Fortune, had anchored 24 hours earlier at El Palito refinery on Venezuela’s northwest coast, which is able to process 140,000 barrels a day.
A third tanker, Petunia, entered Venezuelan waters on May 26, military officials announced, and two other tankers — Faxon and Clavel — are expected in the next two days.
The ships carry a total of 1.5 million barrels of gasoline, according to press reports.
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 President Nicolas Maduro on May 25 praised the “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 in a state television address.
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 navy destroyers and other combat ships, to patrol the Caribbean on what U.S. officials call a drug-interdiction mission.
Maduro views the U.S. mission as a threat.
Maduro, El Aissami, and other top Venezuelan officials have been named by the United States as narco-traffickers.