Venezuelan gas lines surge as Iranian tankers go undercover

People stand outside their vehicles as they wait in a line near a gas station to fill their tanks in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Sept 8, 2020. Gasoline shortages have returned to Venezuela, sparking mile-long lines in the capital as international concerns mounted that Iran yet again may be trying to come to the South American nation’s rescue. Photo – AP -Ariana Cubillos.

 

Gasoline shortages have returned to Venezuela, sparking mile-long lines in the capital as international concerns mounted Tuesday that Iran yet again may be trying to come to the South American nation’s rescue.

By AP – The Associated Press – Juan Pablo Arráez

Three Iranian tankers that delivered gasoline to Venezuela earlier this year have turned off their location tracking devices for up to three weeks, raising suspicions among global ship trackers that the tankers are again headed to Iran’s ally.

Iran uses cloaking to evade detection by the United States, which seeks to block shipments to Venezuela in a campaign aimed at forcing socialist President Nicolás Maduro from power.

Samir Madani, a co-founder of the independent oil tracking firm TankerTrackers.com, said it is possible the three ships could make the entire journey to Venezuela with their transponders off.

“Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me now at this point, given that the Iranians experiment on a weekly basis with new evasive tactics,” said Madani, who tracks shipments with satellite imagery and maritime tracking data. “They’re really good at that. The best, actually.”

Venezuela holds the world’s largest oil reserves, yet it is unable to refine enough crude to meet its domestic needs. Maduro’s government blames crippling U.S. sanctions, while critics say two decades of corruption and mismanagement under socialist rule have left the nation once-thriving oil industry in ruins.

It is unclear whether Iran is attempting to send gasoline in its ships — the Forest, Fortune and Faxon. The Iranian Embassy in Caracas did not respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

If so, this would be the third time this year that Iran has sent fuel shipments to Venezuela in a partnership between the two nations that are both targeted by the United States as having authoritarian regimes.

Venezuelan authorities in May celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers loaded with gasoline, sending fighter jets to greet them entering Caribbean waters and playing Iran’s national anthem on state TV. That delivery allowed the gas pumps to provide fuel with little or no lines.

However, U.S. officials a month ago seized Iranian gasoline en route to Maduro in a flotilla of four Greek-owned ships flying the flag of the West African nation of Liberia. No military force was used in the seizures and the ships weren’t physically confiscated. Rather, U.S. officials threatened ship owners, insurers and captains with sanction to force them to hand over their cargo.

Read more: AP – Venezuelan gas lines surge as Iranian tankers go undercover

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