First tanker carrying Iranian fuel reaches Venezuela despite US warning

The vessel has arrived in Venezuelan waters to help alleviate fuel shortages in the former oil-exporting nation. Tehran had warned of "consequences" if the US stopped the ship.

24 May 2020
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The vessel has arrived in Venezuelan waters to help alleviate fuel shortages in the former oil-exporting nation. Tehran had warned of "consequences" if the US stopped the ship.

The map extracted from marinetraffic.com shows the location of Fortune oil tanker on Sunday, May 24, 2020.

The first of five Iranian oil tankers reached Venezuelan waters late on Saturday to temporarily ease the South American nation's fuel crunch, despite a warning from the US. 

The oil tanker Fortune entered Venezuela's exclusive economic zone at around 7.40 pm local time on Saturday (Sunday 0140 UTC), without facing any immediate signs of obstruction from the US. Government officials celebrated the arrival as the tanker sailed through the Caribbean waters towards the Venezuelan coast. 

The U.S. also recently deployed a force of ships, including Navy destroyers and other combat ships, to patrol the Caribbean on what U.S. officials call a drug interdiction mission. Venezuelan government considers it a direct threat.

"Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said. "Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people,” he said. 

Iran is supplying about 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkylate to Venezuela, according to the government, and calculations by TankerTrackers.com. In total, the shipments will bring enough fuel for about a month's consumption at the current rates.

The image shows the locations of five Iranian vessels on Sunday, May 24, 2020. 

Deep gasoline shortages have plagued Venezuela for years, though the problem had until recently largely spared the capital of Caracas, the largest population center and political seat.

Drivers must wait for days in lines that snake through neighborhood to fill up with government-subsidized gasoline that costs less than a penny for a tank. Wealthier drivers with U.S. dollars turn to the black market, where gas costs up to $12 a gallon. That’s a small fortune in Venezuela, where the monthly minimum wage equals less than $5.

Venezuela state television showed images of naval ships and aircraft preparing to meet the tanker. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez had said the country's armed forces would welcome the five tankers and escort them into the port through its maritime territory. 

In a new relationship between Caracas and Tehran, Iran recently also flew shipments of a key chemical needed to help jump start a Venezuelan oil refinery and produce gasoline.

Fortune's location was confirmed by Miami-based Caracas Capital Markets using ship-tracking technology. Clavel, the last of the five tankers, is three-and-a-half days behind Fortune. 

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