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US vs Iran: Iranian flotilla approaches Caribbean – US does not rule out action

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Iran is supplying about 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkylate to Venezuela, according to both governments, sources and calculations made by TankerTrackers.com based on the vessels’ draft levels. The shipments have caused a diplomatic standoff between Iran and Venezuela and the United States, because both nations are under US sanctions.

We have continued to say that Iran and Venezuela – both two outliers in the international order – are clearly violating international sanctions on both nations with this transaction

Jonathan Hoffman

Washington is considering measures in response, according to a senior US official, who refused to elaborate on any options being weighed up.

The United States recently beefed up its naval presence in the Caribbean for what it said was an expanded anti-drug operation – although Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said on Thursday he was unaware of any specific operations related to the Iranian cargoes.

He told reporters: “We have continued to say that Iran and Venezuela – both two outliers in the international order – are clearly violating international sanctions on both nations with this transaction.

We have continued to say that Iran and Venezuela – both two outliers in the international order – are clearly violating international sanctions on both nations with this transaction

Jonathan Hoffman

Venezuela’s defence minister said its military will escort the Iranian tankers once they reach the nation’s exclusive economic zone.

Iran-flagged tanker Fortune, the first of the vessels, was approaching the Caribbean Sea on Friday.

It has been navigating with its satellite signal on since it passing through the Suez Canal earlier this month.

The other four vessels are following the same route across the Atlantic Ocean, data showed.

It will undoubtedly irk US President Trump, who earlier this month warned the US Navy would sink any Iranian vessels which came to close to US ships.

Relations between Iran and the US have worsened significantly since Mr Trump was elected President in 2016, and in 2018 he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have traded blows in a war of words which culminated in Mr Trump issuing a direct threat of dire consequences in an all-capitals tweet.

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Venezuela desperately needs fuel for up to 1,800 gasoline stations which have been partially closed for weeks due to insufficient supply from state-run state-owned oil and gasoline company PDVSA’s refineries, which until March worked at about 10 percent of their joint capacity of 1.3 million barrels per day.

PDVSA’s gasoline output is now limited to a single facility, the Amuay refinery, but most fuel produced is low octane as most of the country’s alkylation units are out of service, according to company sources.

PDVSA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Venezuela was consuming 170,000 barrels per day of gasoline before coronavirus-related lockdown measures.

Fuel sales at stations declined to about 40,000 barrels per day due to rationing, according to analysts.

After more than a decade of mismanagement and lack of staff, combined with US sanctions that since 2019 have limited imports, Venezuela’s refineries are in poor condition.

Shipments of equipment in flights by Iran’s Mahar Air have arrived in Venezuela in recent weeks to start repair work.

The US Treasury Department this week blacklisted the Chinese firm that provided the refinery parts.

Beijing called the sanctions “illegal.”

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