United States confiscates four Iranian oil tankers bound for Venezuela

Washington sees the shipment of oil to Caracas as a violation of sanctions against the Iranian government
Archive photograph of the Iranian-flagged Fortune oil tanker docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on 25 May 2020

AFP PHOTO /MINC  -   Archive photograph of the Iranian-flagged Fortune oil tanker docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on 25 May 2020

Four tankers allegedly carrying gasoline from Iran to Venezuela have been seized by U.S. authorities, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Reuters news agency. Official sources have told these two media that the boats were confiscated peacefully and that the cargo they were carrying was transferred to other vessels for shipment to the United States, following talks between the U.S. government and the owners of the vessels.

"Another lie and psychological warfare from the U.S. propaganda machine. The ships are not Iranian, and neither the owner nor his flag has anything to do with Iran," Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Hojat Soltani wrote on his Twitter account.

Personas con vehículos hacen cola para intentar repostar en una gasolinera de la compañía petrolera estatal PDVSA en Maracaibo, Venezuela, el 17 de mayo de 2019
PHOTO/REUTERS - People with vehicles line up to try to refuel at a gas station of the state oil company PDVSA in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on May 17, 2019

A new episode in the escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran, which last summer led to a similar incident when British authorities arrested the Iranian oil tanker 'Grace-1' on suspicion of transporting more than two million barrels of Iranian oil to Syria and Washington demanded the seizure of the ship.

According to the WSJ, the four ships were sailing alongside five other tankers and were escorted by an Iranian naval intelligence ship. Already in July, U.S. prosecutors filed a lawsuit to seize the gasoline on board four tankers (Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna) that Iran was trying to send to Venezuela. For U.S. authorities, this fuel is "a source of influence" for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is considered a terrorist organization by the White House.

This seizure order was taken by Tehran as an act of piracy, and the spokesman of the Iranian office to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi said that "any attempt on the high seas to prevent Iran from engaging in legal trade with any country it chooses will be an act of piracy, pure and simple.

Retention Exchange 

Reuters says that according to maritime sources and the Trump administration, Tehran's Wednesday seizure of an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz was a retaliation against a Greek businessman, who owns some ships seized by the United States. Already in May, the tension between Washington, Caracas and Tehran grew after Iran sent five ships with 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to Caracas, which for Washington meant a clear violation of the sanctions against the Islamic regime.

Un trabajador se sienta al lado de una bomba de combustible en una estación, cerrada por falta de combustible, en Caracas, Venezuela, el domingo 24 de mayo de 2020
AP/ARIANA CUBILLOS - A worker sits next to a fuel pump at a station, closed for lack of fuel, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday, May 24, 2020

Venezuela is the country with the largest number of oil reserves in the world, but the crisis suffered in the last two decades, which has led to misery for a large part of the population and even to the rationing and black market sale of gasoline, has made it look for oil outside the country. Tehran, finally the government of Nicolas Maduro has been responsible for providing the oil to Caracas. The mismanagement and corruption of the state oil company, PDVSA, in recent years has led to the collapse of its refineries.

This alliance has been understood by the United States, firstly as a violation of the sanctions imposed by Washington on the Hassan Rohani government, and secondly as contrary to the heavy-handed policy that Washington is carrying out against the Maduro government in order to force its fall.