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US sanctions five Iranian ship captains for delivering gasoline to Venezuela

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Washington — The US Treasury Department on June 24 sanctioned five oil tanker captains for delivering 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline and related supplies to Venezuela earlier this year.

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The captains, all Iranian nationals, sailed the Iranian-flagged Clavel, Petunia, Fortune, Forest and Faxon tankers to Venezuelan ports, the US State Department said.

Venezuela turned to Iran, another target of US oil sanctions, to meet domestic gasoline demand as the South American country's crude production and refining capabilities have crumbled in the face of US sanctions and dire economic turmoil.

"The Maduro regime has mismanaged Venezuela's abundant natural resources to the point that it must import gasoline from Iran, and Maduro's claims of equal and fair gasoline distribution are fooling no one," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The Treasury designation blocks any assets the captains had in US-linked banks and bans US persons from dealing with them.

Pompeo said the action serves as a warning to others in the shipping industry.

"Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk," he said. "Individuals and entities will face consequences from the United States if they do business with the Iranian regime, Maduro, or his cronies."

Treasury named the captains as Ali Danaei Kenarsari, Mohsen Gohardehi, Alireza Rahnavard, Reza Vaziri and Hamidreza Yahya Zadeh of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

US sanctions remain tight

US President Donald Trump on June 22 rejected a report that he wanted to meet with Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, signaling continued tight enforcement of US sanctions against the country. The sanctions have crippled Venezuela's oil production and roiled shipping markets recently.

"I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!" Trump tweeted.

The US government has issued repeated warnings in the past year that it would crack down on companies and ships helping to facilitate Venezuelan oil exports and therefore fund the Maduro regime.

Treasury on June 18 sanctioned Mexico City-based Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group and their executives for their roles in finding international buyers for more than 30 million barrels of Venezuelan crude, including roughly 40% of PDVSA's April exports. Treasury said the companies brokered the resale of $300 million worth of Venezuelan oil under the guise of an "oil-for-food" program that never followed through on promised corn and water deliveries to the beleaguered South American country.

In the same action, Treasury also sanctioned Marshall Islands-based shipper Delos Voyager Shipping and Greek shipper Romina Maritime for delivering Venezuelan crude to Asia earlier this year.

The US originally imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned PDVSA in January 2019, blocking US imports of Venezuelan crude and exports of US diluent to Venezuela.

Venezuelan oil production fell to 550,000 b/d in May, down 70,000 b/d from April, according to the latest S&P Global Platts survey of OPEC production.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects Venezuelan supply to the global market to be capped at 300,000 b/d through end-2021, given the US sanctions crackdown, Rosneft's departure and the oil price collapse reducing the appeal of discounted Venezuelan oil.