By Marianna Parraga and Vivian Sequera
(Reuters) – The first of a group of three tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela entered the waters of the South American nation on Monday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, in the most recent sign of the countries’ expanding trade.
The two OPEC members have increased cooperation this year by exchanging crude, fuel, food, equipment for refineries and other industrial goods. Many details about the transactions are not available.
The Iran-flagged tanker Forest, transporting some 270,000 barrels of fuel loaded in the Middle East, entered Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone around 8:05 a.m. EDT (1205 GMT) to approach state-run PDVSA’s El Palito port later in the day.
The vessel crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea without any disturbances, according to the data.
The two following Iranian tankers, the Faxon and the Fortune, are covering the same route, with estimated dates of arrival in early October.
Although both countries are under tough U.S. sanctions, Washington has not moved to intercept the vessels, which made a previous fuel deliveries to Venezuela from May through June.
The United States in July seized a group of Iranian cargoes aboard privately owned vessels bound for Venezuela through a civil forfeiture case. The fuel is expected to be auctioned soon, with the proceeds going to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.
Following a virtual meeting between officials of both governments on Monday to discuss trade, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said in a statement that Iran had masterly overcome the “unilateral punitive measures” against it.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election was not recognized by most Western nations, aims to form a coalition of countries affected by unilateral sanctions, Arreaza added.
‘WE ARE HELPING THEM’
Yahya Rahim-Safavi, former chief commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), told reporters on Sunday that Iran helped “every Muslim and non-Muslim country” that asks for assistance.
He said Iran received gold bars in exchange for the gasoline previously delivered to Venezuela, sent by airplane “so that nothing would happen to it.”
“(The Venezuelans) have stood up to the Americans, and we are helping them, giving them software and giving them ideas, such as how to mobilize the people and how to repel cyberattacks,” he added.
Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, and the Oil Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Forest, Faxon and Fortune are together expected to deliver about 820,000 barrels of gasoline and other fuels, helping to ease shortages in Venezuela.
More than 100 demonstrations – mostly peaceful – were held from Saturday through Monday to protest the lack of power, water, gasoline and other basic services, a Venezuelan NGO that oversees social conflict said on Twitter. Another organization reported that 31 people had been detained in recent days after similar protests.
Separately, an Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) is expected to leave this week from Venezuela’s Jose port with 1.9 million barrels of Venezuelan heavy oil for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), according to a source and PDVSA loading schedules. The NIOC did not respond to questions about the plan.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney)