Iranian oil tankers en route to Venezuela despite US sanctions

Five vessels on course for Caracas after loading up with fuel in Iran

This Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. appears to show the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1 off the coast of Tartus, Syria. New satellite photos obtained Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, by The Associated Press appears to show the Iranian oil tanker still off Syria despite U.S. efforts to seize the vessel. That's after Gibraltar earlier seized and held the tanker for weeks, later releasing it after authorities there said Iran promised the oil wouldn't go to Syria. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

A shipment of Iranian fuel is on its way to Venezuela, tracking data showed on Wednesday, despite strong US sanctions against Tehran’s oil exports.

The Iran-flagged medium tanker Clavel  had set sail for the crisis-hit South American country, Reuters reported, citing vessel tracking data from analyst Refinitiv Eikon.

The data suggests the tanker loaded fuel at Bandar Abbas port in Iran at the end of March, and passed through the Suez Canal and into the Atlantic on Wednesday at a time of heightened tension between Washington, Tehran and Caracas.

The tanker may be one of several oil shipments that Iran is sending to Venezuela.

Four other vessels of a similar size, sailing under Iranian flags, are following the path from Bandar Abbas to the Atlantic but have not indicated their final destination.

Iran has been helping to restart operations at Venzuela’s 310,000 barrel-per-day Cardon refinery, with several flights carrying vital materials arriving since last month.

Venezuela's refining network has all but collapsed because of under-investment and lack of maintenance in recent years under socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen an economic disaster.

Last year, the US imposed sanctions on state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela as part of Washington's efforts to remove Mr Maduro.

The US State Department was not immediately available to comment to The National.

Venezuela’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for a statement.

The delivery constitutes a double breach of US sanctions on the oil sectors of Iran and Venezuela, which prohibit transactions without certain waivers.

Tension between Washington and Caracas are at an all-time high after Mr Maduro accused the US of attempting “a failed invasion”, after his security foiled a bizarre attempt to overthrow him.

Two US citizens have been arrested and are facing trial for allegedly trying to carry out a coup in the country, but the US administration of President Donald Trump has denied any involvement.

On Wednesday, the US State Department notified Congress that Iran and Venezuela, as well as North Korea, Syria and Cuba, were certified under the Arms Export Control Act as “not co-operating fully” with US counter-terrorism efforts in 2019.

“This is the first year that Cuba has been certified as not fully co-operating since 2015,” it said.

The move blocks the sale or licence for export of defence articles and services to those countries.