First Iranian tanker crosses into Venezuela’s economic zone as US ships spotted nearby – tracking data

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands during their meeting in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2019. © Reuters / Miraflores Palace / Free

The first of five Iranian tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela has entered the nation’s exclusive economic zone, tracking data shows. Earlier, Tehran threatened the US with retaliation for interfering with the vessels’ passage.

Iranian-flagged oil tanker ‘Fortune’ reached Venezuela’s EEC (Exclusive Economic Zone) late on Saturday, vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon suggests.

As it heads into Venezuela’s territorial waters, it appears the tanker is being closely followed by a US cargo ship, the Adam Joseph.

Hashtag #GraciasIran [Thank you, Iran] has been launched on Twitter to mark the occasion, with netizens hailing the cooperation between Tehran and Caracas in defiance of the de facto naval blockade by the US.

‘Fortune’ is followed by the other four Iranian tankers – the Clavel, the Forest, the Faxon and the Petunia –  all en route to Venezuela’s shores. The vessels are expected to deliver a total of about 1.5 million barrels of oil to Caracas. Despite boasting the world’s largest proven oil reserves, the country has been struggling to cover its domestic supply needs, with its energy industry ravaged by crippling US sanctions.

Shortly before the passage, Iran issued a stern warning to the US, noting that although Tehran is not interested in another flare-up, it would not hesitate to respond to any provocation.

“We hope the Americans will not make a mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.

While the Trump administration has largely refrained from commenting on the impending delivery, which would be in violation of US sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran, Reuters quoted a senior White House official as saying last week that Washington was considering steps it could take in response to the fuel transfer.

Venezuela, for its part, claimed that the tankers were facing “the threat of imminent use of military force” from the US, vowing to accompany the Iranian vessels with military aircraft and ships to protect them from any potential assault.

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