The vessel has arrived in Venezuelan waters, carrying 1.53 million barrels of gasoline, to help alleviate fuel shortages in the former oil-exporting nation. Tehran had warned of "consequences" if the US stopped the ship.
The first of five Iranian oil tankers reached Venezuelan waters late on Saturday to temporarily ease the South American nation's fuel crunch, despite a warning from the US.
The oil tanker Fortune entered Venezuela's exclusive economic zone at around 7.40 pm local time on Saturday (Sunday 0140 UTC), without facing any immediate signs of obstruction from the US. Government officials celebrated the arrival as the tanker sailed through the Caribbean waters towards the Venezuelan coast.
"Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said. "Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people,” he said.
Fortune is carrying 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and alkylate to Venezuela, according to the government, and calculations by TankerTrackers.com. In total, the shipments will bring enough fuel for about a month's consumption at the current rates.
Venezuela state television showed images of naval ships and aircraft preparing to meet the tanker. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez had said the country's armed forces would welcome the five tankers and escort them into the port through its maritime territory.
Fortune's location was confirmed by Miami-based Caracas Capital Markets using ship-tracking technology. Clavel, the last of the five tankers, is three-and-a-half days behind Fortune.
Iran threatens retaliation
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had warned the US on Saturday against obstructing the shipment. "If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face any problems caused by the Americans, they will face problems as well,'' Rouhani said. "We hope the Americans will not make a mistake.”
The US has imposed tough sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, both of which it says are ruled by repressive regimes. Washington is considering a response to the shipment, a US official said, although it did not announce plans to intercept the tankers.
US Navy destroyers have been deployed in the Caribbean and the US recently increased its naval presence there for what it called an expanded anti-drug operation.
Venezuela's fuel crunch
Despite having the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela has faced fuel shortages due to a complete breakdown of the nation's refining network over the last two decades. Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blame his government for corruption and mismanagement that has led to a six-year economic crisis.
The one-prominent fuel exporter has been plagued by gasoline shortages for a while, but the problem had largely spared the capital of Caracas, where drivers now must wait in a line stretching across neighborhoods to fill up government-subsidized fuel.
Earlier this week, Maduro appeared on TV vowing a tough response to a possible US interference of the tankers. "They want to enslave us,'' he said Thursday. "If you want peace, you must be prepared to defend it.”
adi/mm (AP, Reuters)