U.S. authorities have confiscated four Iranian vessels on the high seas headed for Venezuela loaded with gasoline for violating sanctions imposed by Washington.
The four ships, named Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella, were seized after a federal judge authorized them last week and are now headed for Houston, Texas. The seizure was made without the use of military force. The Bering and Bella were sailing in Cape Verdean waters when the U.S. administration sued for their seizure last July, while the last known sign of the Pandi and the Luna was in Oman.
That lawsuit alleges that the shipment of the ships was organized by an Iranian businessman with ties to the Revolutionary Guard, considered by Washington to be a terrorist, through a network of front companies to evade detection by U.S. authorities.
The Iranian ambassador to Venezuela, Hojat Soltani, denied that his country had anything to do with the ships, although he did not deny the origin or ownership of the cargo. “Another lie and psychological warfare from the US propaganda machine. The ships are not Iranian, and neither the owner nor his flag has anything to do with Iran,” he wrote on Twitter.
The seizure of the ships represents another step of pressure from the Trump Executive to Tehran and Caracas, against whose governments it has imposed numerous economic sanctions. Venezuela is experiencing a shortage of gasoline, which is why in recent months it has received millions of liters of gasoline from Iran, one of its main allies in the world. The first five Iranian ships loaded with 245 million liters of gasoline arrived in Venezuela at the end of May without a hitch. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro then defended his right to trade freely with other countries and thanked Iran for “its solidarity, its support, its courage, its decision.
Shortly after the delivery of the gasoline, the United States imposed sanctions against the five Iranian captains of those ships, whose assets (if any) are blocked in U.S. territory and will not be able to operate in U.S. waters.They are the captains of the ships Clavel, Petunia, Fortuna, Bosque and Faxon, which work for the Shipping Lines of the Republic of Iran or for the Iranian National Oil Company. The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded that “Iran and Venezuela will stand firm to counteract the illegal US sanctions”, which it considered “desperate moves by the US”.