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Iranian Tankers Carrying Gasoline Approach Venezuela

Clavel, right, one of the Iranian tankers sailing on international waters crossing the Gibraltar stretch, May 20, 2020
Clavel, right, one of the Iranian tankers sailing on international waters crossing the Gibraltar stretch, May 20, 2020

Five tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela are approaching the Caribbean, with the first vessel expected to reach the South American country's waters on Sunday, Radio Farda was informed by

The tanker closest to the Caribbean is Fortune carrying around 43 million liters (11.3 million gallons) of gasoline that can fill around one-third of cars in Venezuela.

Iran is supplying about 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkylate to Venezuela, according to both governments, sources and calculations made by based on the vessels' draft levels.

The shipments have caused a diplomatic standoff between Iran, Venezuela and the United States as both countries are under U.S. sanctions. Washington is considering measures in response, according to a senior U.S. official, who did not elaborate on any options being weighed, Reuters reported.

The United States recently beefed up its naval presence in the Caribbean for what it said was an expanded anti-drug operation. But a Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said on Thursday he was not aware of any operations related to the Iranian cargoes.

"We have continued to say that Iran and Venezuela - both two outliers in the international order - (are) clearly violating international sanctions on both nations with this transaction," he told reporters.

Venezuela's defense minister said its military will escort the Iranian tankers once they reach the nation's exclusive economic zone, 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the shore.

Iranian media on Friday reflected a celebratory tone saying the country's flotilla "is in America's backyard". Earlier this month reports said Venezuela sent a huge quantity of gold to Iran, in what might have been a payment for the gasoline shipment.

Venezuela, an oil-rich country has lost almost all of its refining capacity because of political and economic turmoil. Iran has been an ally since former president Hugo Chavez took over the once promising Latin American economy.

Venezuela was consuming 170,000 bpd of gasoline before coronavirus-related lockdown measures. Fuel sales at stations declined to about 40,000 bpd due to rationing, according to analysts.

Over a decade of mismanagement and lack of staff, combined with U.S. sanctions that since 2019 have limited imports, Venezuela's refineries are in poor condition. Shipments of equipment in flights by Iran's Mahar Air have arrived in Venezuela in recent weeks to start repair work.

The U.S. Treasury Department this week blacklisted the Chinese firm that provided the refinery parts. Beijing called the sanctions "illegal."

With reporting by Reuters