Iran risks backlash for sending largest fleet of oil tankers to Venezuela despite US ban

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The move would be the latest in a series of such shipments by Iran, with others having taken place this year. The shipments have resulted in action from the US, which in August claimed to have confiscated about 1.1 million barrels of fuel from what it said were four Iranian ships.

Sources told Bloomberg that some of the 10 Iranian vessels will also help to export Venezuelan crude after discharging fuel.

In May this year, five tankers loaded with gasoline successfully headed from Iran to Venezuela to deliver the fuel on board.

The shipment was hailed by Venezuelan officials as a show of support, since Venezuela has long suffered from a severe fuel shortage despite sitting on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves.

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The country has resorted to importing fuel from elsewhere, but US sanctions have made this difficult.

Now, Bloomberg claims 10 Iranian vessels are due to deliver fuel to Iran, citing people close to the matter.

The vessels are then going to help the nation export crude oil afterwards.

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Elliott Abrams, US special representative for Iran and Venezuela, said in September this year that ship captains “must stay away from that trade” and warned it was “watching what Iran is doing”.

The US has placed sanctions on Venezuela as it wants to force the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, out of power, the BBC reports, and there are also sanctions on Iran.

Despite this, Iran has continued sending fuel to Venezuela. One shipment by the Iranian tanker Forest carried around 270,000 barrels of fuel there in September.

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Meanwhile the US claims to have intercepted four Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela in August, though details such as time and place were not included in a report.

Iran denied the ships were Iranian and its ambassador to Venezuela, Hojat Soltani, said the seizures were “another lie and act of psychological warfare perpetrated by the US propaganda machine”.

Before that was the May shipment, which resulted in the US slapping sanctions on the captains of the five ships.

The US embassy in Iran said in a press release in June: “Today, the United States, under Executive Order 13599, is sanctioning five Iranian ship captains, who delivered approximately 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline and related components to Venezuela in support of the illegitimate Maduro regime. 

“These individuals who headed five Iranian-flagged tankers – CLAVEL, PETUNIA, FORTUNE, FOREST, and FAXON – to Venezuela’s shores are now added to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) maintained by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.   

“The rogue regimes in Caracas and Tehran are unified by their penchant for repressing their people, corruption, self-enrichment, and gross mismanagement of their peoples’ wealth. 

“The Maduro regime has mismanaged Venezuela’s abundant natural resources to the point that it must import gasoline from Iran, and Maduro’s claims of equal and fair gasoline distribution are fooling no one.”

The shortage of fuel in Venezuela – as well as frequent power cuts and a lack of drinking water – led to protests there in September this year.

It is thought the coronavirus pandemic has made Venezuela’s multiple shortages even worse, with poorer residents hit by rolling lockdowns.

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