U.S. Sanctions Five Captains for Delivering Iranian Fuel to Venezuela

NITC tanker Iran
File image courtesy Iranian state media

Published Jun 24, 2020 2:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

For a second time, the United States government has announced penalties for individual mariners for their involvement in Iran's petroleum shipping sector. 

Effective Wednesday, five Iranian captains - Ali Danaei Kenarsari, Mohsen Gohardehi, Alireza Rahnavard, Reza Vaziri and Hamidreza Yahya Zadeh - have been added to the U.S. Treasury's specially designated nationals list, the blacklist of people and companies subject to U.S. sanctions. They are all allegedly linked to two U.S.-sanctioned Iranian shipping companies, IRISL and NITC, and they allegedly commanded the five tankers that delivered fuel cargoes from Iran to Venezuela in May. 

"As a result of today’s sanctions, these captains’ assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation. Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. 

Both Iran and Venezuela are already subject to strict American sanctions measures, including a well-enforced ban on their petroleum and petroleum shipping sectors. The U.S. Treasury has limited options for imposing any additional penalties on either nation for their new bilateral trading arrangement, since maximum economic sanctions are already in place. The vessels' captains, however, had not been previously penalized. 

“The Treasury Department will target anyone who supports Iranian attempts to evade United States sanctions and who further enables their destabilizing behavior around the world,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The Iranian regime’s support to the authoritarian and corrupt regime in Venezuela is unacceptable, and the Administration will continue to use its authorities to disrupt it.”

It is not the first time that the U.S. has targeted a vessel's crew for carrying an Iranian petroleum cargo. In August 2019, the State Department informed the "maritime community" that it would use an anti-terrorism law to deny visas to seafarers who work aboard vessels carrying Iranian oil. The announcement came as the Iranian-controlled tanker Grace 1 prepared to get under way from Gibraltar, where she had been detained since July 2019. 

"A message to all mariners – if you crew an IRGC or other [Foreign Terrorist Organization]-affiliated ship, you jeopardize future entry to the U.S.," wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a message at the time. The United States treats Iranian oil as a source of support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian military that the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.