London — Two Iranian tankers carrying gasoline arrived in Venezuela over the past few days with three more on their way as the country deals with severe fuel shortages and US sanctions.
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The Fortune -- laden with 30,000 mt of gasoline -– was at the port of El Palito which is home to a 140,000 b/d refinery while the Forest was was just west of El Palito as of Tuesday morning, data from Platts cFlow, trade flow software, showed.
The Iranian Embassy in Venezuela said over the weekend its tankers arrived in Venezuelan waters escorted by the country's navy. That was confirmed in a series of tweets by Venezuela's President, Nicolas Maduro, and new oil minister, Tareck El Aissami.
Iran's ambassador to Caracas Hojatollah Soltani said the two Iranian tankers had traveled unhindered to the Latin American country.
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"Iranian oil tankers contain fuel and necessary materials for activity of Venezuelan refineries. And these materials have been transferred to this country within international protocols," Soltani told Al Alam Television, the state-run Arabic-language satellite channel Tuesday.
The shipments came amid rising political tensions between the US and the two OPEC members. US sanctions against both Iran and Venezuela have had a severe impact on their oil sectors.
US officials have been watching reports of Iranian gasoline shipments to Venezuela but have not taken any action to block them.
"Venezuela used to produce a million barrels a day of gasoline, but now has to import it week by week from Iran," Morgan Ortagus, a spokeswoman from the US State Department, said in a statement Monday. "This is a sad reminder of Maduro's hopeless mismanagement."
The US National Security Council has said Venezuela's imports of Iranian gasoline was "an act of desperation".
"It will not stop Venezuela's chronic fuel shortages or alleviate the suffering that Maduro has inflicted on the once prosperous people of his country," the council said May 21.
Meanwhile, Iran has repeatedly said it will make a "firm response" if the US took action against its oil tankers.
More tankers en route
The two shipments were the first of five Iranian tankers set to arrive at Venezuela, according to shipping sources.
The Clavel, Faxon, Forest, Fortune and Petunia will carry a total of about 210,000 mt of gasoline, according to Platts cFlow, or almost 1.5 million barrels of gasoline.
The Petunia was expected to arrive in the next couple of days, Platts cFlow data showed.
Venezuela is facing persistent gasoline shortages due to the deterioration of its refining sector. The situation has seen heavy fuel rationing in the midst of a Coronavirus quarantine since March.
For Iran, the move is a much need outlet for its oil. Iran, under strict US sanctions for almost a year and half -- has seen domestic gasoline demand fall heavily in the past few months due to COVID-19.
Iranian crude production fell to 2.02 million b/d in April, as exports and refinery runs fell. That was the lowest level Iran has produced since April 1988, according to S&P Global Platts data.
Venezuela pumped 620,000 b/d in April, a fall of almost 1 million b/d in the past two years, Platts data showed.