Iran Warns U.S. Against Interfering With Venezuelan Fuel Shipments

File image courtesy Alf Van Been / Shana

Published May 17, 2020 10:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the U.S. against any interference with the shipment of Iranian petroleum products to Venezuela, accusing the Trump administration of committing "a kind of marine piracy."  

Both Venezuela and Iran face stifling U.S. sanctions, and while both are oil-rich, Venezuela's refining infrastructure is collapsing after years of mismanagement and underinvestment. The Trump administration believes that the Venezuelan government is paying the Iranian government in gold bullion for a shipment of much-needed fuel. Five Iranian-flagged product tankers recently took on cargo at Bandar Abbas and headed westwards through the Suez Canal and Strait of Gibraltar, bound for undeclared destinations. 

The tankers - identified as the Fortune, Faxon, Petunia, Forest and Clavel - have a combined deadweight capacity of about 175,000 tonnes, according to Capt. Ranjith Raja, an analyst with Refinitiv. The consignment likely has a market value in the vicinity of $45 million. 

On Thursday, a Trump administration official confirmed to Reuters that the White House is weighing undisclosed response options for the Iranian petroleum shipment, which the official described as "unwelcome by the region."

Iran has also used cargo planes to supply Venezuela with materials for restarting the catalytic cracking unit at PDVSA's Cardon refinery, according to U.S. officials, in defiance of American sanctions on both countries. 

In a demarche, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Seyyed Abbas Araqchi described Iranian-Venezuelan relations as "completely legitimate and legal," and said that any coercive measures or other "bullying behavior" by the U.S. would be a threat to free shipping and international trade. He warned that any action against Iranian tankers would be "met with Iran’s immediate and firm response."

Iran's semiofficial Nour news agency warned Sunday that "if the United States, just like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk, and that will certainly not go without repercussion."