The first of five tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela reached the country’s waters during the weekend, Reuters has reported, noting that the vessel Fortune entered Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone on Saturday.
Venezuela is in the grips of a major gasoline shortage as refineries are unable to operate at run rates higher than 10 percent because of a shortage of diluents necessary for the production of fuels as well as an urgent need for repairs.
Iran, a fellow target of U.S. sanctions, last month sent to Venezuela two plane loads of equipment and chemicals necessary for the production of gasoline as it agreed to help Caracas restart one refinery, with a capacity of 310,000 bpd. At the time, sources told the AP that 14 more flights were scheduled to arrive from Iran to Venezuela, some of them carrying refinery technicians.
The gasoline tankers are the next step in the support plan, for which, according to reports, Venezuela is paying in gold.
“The ships from the fraternal Islamic Republic of Iran are now in our exclusive economic zone,” Venezuela’s new oil minister, Tareck El Assaimi said in a tweet. The tankers, whose total load is about 1.53 million barrels of mostly gasoline but also some alkylate—a gasoline blending stock—will be escorted by the Venezuelan military because of threats made by the United States, according to Venezuelan officials.
A U.S. official told Reuters that Washington was indeed considering moves in response to the tanker deliveries, but they did not elaborate on the nature of these moves.
Venezuela suspended imports of gasoline from the United States last year as the political row between the two escalated. Since then, a shortage of the fuel has been building. The state of disrepair into which Venezuela’s refineries have fallen due to underinvestment has not helped, either.
Meanwhile, a former Iran OPEC ambassador has suggested that countries under U.S. sanctions should set up a club to facilitate trade amongst themselves.
“The increase in the number of countries sanctioned by the United States has provided a better capacity to create alternative solutions to supply demands,” Mohammad Ali Khabtibi told Fars news agency. A barter form of trade, he said, could make the foundation of this club.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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