Iran appears to be sending seven of its high-speed swarm attack boats to Venezuala, according to USNI News analysis of newly released satellite photos taken over the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas in April.
USNI News tweeted on Tuesday, “Iranian Warship Thought to be Headed to Venezuela Left Port with 7 High-Speed Missile Boats Aboard – USNI News Image from @Maxar.”
The image collected by Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite intelligence firm, shows seven Iranian fast attack craft (FAC) onboard a larger cargo ship on April 28 at the Rajaei Port in Bandar Abbas. The cargo ship is believed to be the IRINS Makran, a converted oil tanker now used by the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) as a sea base and transport ship. The FACs aboard the Makran appear to match Iran’s Peykaap family of medium-sized armed speed boats.
Politico reported last week, based on accounts from three officials familiar with the situation, that the Makran is likely headed for Venezuela. Politico again reported on Wednesday, citing two officials, that the Makran is on the move and is on track to round Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and enter the Atlantic Ocean by Thursday. Politico reported the Makran is being accompanied by an Iranian naval frigate.
“Our belief that it’s heading toward Venezuela has not changed,” one of the people said.
The newest Iranian Peykaap-II type FAC is a 57-foot long speed boat capable of carrying up to two anti-ship missiles and two 12.75 inch torpedoes. USNI News reported the Iranian missiles could be Kowsar or Nasr types, which are derived from Chinese models anti-ship missile models with a suspected range of about 18 nautical miles. USNI News reported the Makran could be carrying additional military equipment not visible with satellite imagery.
When asked about the Makran’s activity and possible transport of the Iranian attack boats to Venezuela, Iranian Foreign Ministry officials asserted their rights to operate in international waters worldwide.
“[Mistry spokesman] Saeed Khatibzadeh emphasized Iran’s legal right to go through all international seas,” Iranian officials said at a Monday press conference, according to the state-controlled Iran Press News Agency. “Khatibzadeh also warned the U.S. officials about any actions against Iranian ships.”
Iran has used FACs, in recent efforts to swarm and harass U.S. ships operating throughout waterways in the Middle East.
Iran has sent shipments of refined gasoline to the oil-rich Venezuela amid a collapse in the country’s oil refining sector. The Iranian gas shipments have reportedly helped Venezuela respond to gas shortages. Last summer, Bloomberg reported that Venezuela had drawn about nine tons of gold from its dwindling vaults, an amount equal to about $500 million, to give Iran in exchange for the fuel shipments.
The U.S. has attempted to stop the trade interactions between the Iranian and Venezuelan governments. Last summer, the U.S. reportedly seized four Iranian fuel ships bound for Venezuela, in an effort to stop the Iranian support for the country.
Iran has been participating in ongoing talks in Vienna with President Joe Biden’s administration and other signatories of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, regarding Iran coming back into compliance with the deal, and the U.S. rejoining the agreement.