Five Iranian oil tankers that appear to be carrying gasoline and similar products valued at least $ 45.5 million They were sailing to Venezuela on Sunday, part of an agreement between the two nations sanctioned by the United States amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The tankers make their trip after the dictator Nicolás Maduro turned to Iran to get the chemicals needed for an aging refinery amid a gasoline shortage, a symptom of the broader economic and political chaos affecting what used to be the largest oil producer in Latin America.
For Iran, ships represent a way to raise money for their Shiite theocracy and to put pressure on the United States, whose President Donald Trump has carried out campaigns against both nations.
But the strategy invites possibility of a new confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the United States, both in the Persian Gulf, where there have already been a series of increasingly frequent incidents involving the oil industry last year, and beyond.
"This is new for everyoneSaid Captain Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at data firm Refinitiv. "We haven't seen anything like this before."
All the vessels involved belong to Iranian companies owned or linked to the State, which sail under the flag of Iran. Since a pressure campaign against Iranian ships began, notably with Gibraltar's temporary seizure of an Iranian oil tanker last year, the country's vessels have been unable to sail under the flags of other nations, a common practice on international ships.
All ships appear to have been loaded at the Persian Gulf Star refinery
One of the tankers, the Carnation, Headed to Caracas from May 12, as it appears in the AIS and according to data from the naval tracking portal MarineTraffic.com. Two days later, the ship changed its destination to "what is ordered", although the ship maintains its route, in which it will leave the Mediterranean Sea and sail towards Venezuela.
Another tanker, the Forest, changed its destination AIS to “S. America according to what is ordered ”on May 14.
The other three, the Faxon, the Fortune and the Petunia, appear on routes that could take them to Venezuela.
Given the strong sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran, the also sanctioned Venezuela seems to be the country that would have nothing to lose by accepting shipments. Raja said Refinitiv does not have data on any Iranian gasoline shipments that have been made to South America before.
TankerTrackers.com, an online portal that focuses on oil trade at sea, was the first to report that the ships may be heading to Venezuela.
(With information from AP / Jon Gambrell)
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