The first of five Iranian tankers entered the exclusive economic zone of Venezuela on Saturday, carrying fuel for the country, which is facing severe gasoline shortages, despite a US official warning that Washington was considering a response to these shipments.
Refinitive Icon’s tracking data to track ships indicated that the tanker arrived in the waters of Venezuela at about 7:40 p.m., after passing north of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
“The ships from the sisterly Islamic Republic of Iran are now in our private economic zone,” Tariq Al-Aissami, Venezuelan Vice President for Economic Affairs, who was recently appointed oil minister, said on Twitter earlier on Saturday.
Venezuelan state television showed scenes of a navy ship and a plane being prepared to meet the carrier. The Venezuelan defense minister has pledged that the army will accompany the tankers upon their arrival in the exclusive economic zone of his country because of what the authorities described as threats by the United States.
The tanker fleet carries a total of 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkyls for Venezuela, according to the two governments, and the sources and estimates of the Tanker.com dot com website, which specializes in tracking tanker traffic.
The shipments caused a diplomatic confrontation between Iran and Venezuela on the one hand and the United States on the other, as the two countries are subject to American sanctions. A senior official said Washington was considering measures to respond, without giving details of the options.
The United States recently boosted its presence in the Caribbean in preparation for what it says is an expansion of a drug operation.
However, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said on Thursday he was not aware of any operations related to Iranian shipments.
The shipments drew condemnation from the Venezuelan opposition, which is concerned about the growing ties between Iran and Socialist President Nicholas Maduro, whose country faces an economic crisis six years ago. These shipments provide fuel for consumption for one month only at current prices in that country, which was previously a prominent source of oil.
Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency reported that President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that his country would respond if the United States caused any problems for tankers carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela.
“If our tankers in the Caribbean region or anywhere in the world are subjected to any trouble by the Americans, then they will face troubles as well,” the agency quoted Rouhani as saying by phone with the emir of Qatar.