First Iranian oil tanker docks in Venezuela showing solidarity

Source:AFP Published: 2020/5/26 15:48:42

A worker of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA waves an Iranian flag as the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docks at the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela on Monday. Photo: AFP

The first of five Iranian tankers carrying much-needed gasoline and oil derivatives docked in Venezuela on Monday, Caracas announced amid concern in Washington over the burgeoning relationship between countries it sees as international pariahs.

In a statement delivered on state television, Oil Minister Tareck el Aissami said the convoy was an expression of the Venezuelan people's "self-determination" and praised Tehran's friendship at a time of need. 

"What great fortune to have Iran in these times," said the minister.

Earlier, El Aissami triumphantly shared images on Twitter of the first ship, Fortune arriving at El Palito refinery on Venezuela's northwest coast.

"We keep going and WINNING!" El Aissami wrote.

The US has closely monitored the shipments, concerned that Iran and Venezuela - both under US sanctions - were taking their long-standing ties to another strategic level.

The Iranian tankers have run the gauntlet of US warships arrayed off the Venezuelan coast after Washington announced in April it was stepping up its naval presence, arguing there was an increase in organized crime. 

Tensions between Washington and Caracas remain high following Venezuela's disruption in April of an abortive military assault by a group of mercenaries coordinated by a private US security company.

The US has stepped up sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle, recently offering a $15 million reward for Maduro accusing him of masterminding a drug-smuggling ring.

The vital shipment arrives at a time of chronic fuel shortages in the crisis-wracked South American country, exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.

Gasoline is currently selling for up to three dollars a liter on the black market in Caracas, unheard of in a country where motorists are used to filling up for practically nothing.

"We have no shortage of oil! Supposedly we are sitting on five billion barrels of it underground. But there's no gasoline," said Teodoro Lamonte as he slowly rolled his car along a line outside a service station.

Venezuela boasts the largest proven oil reserves in the world, but production has plummeted under the current government and its oil exports have been hampered by US sanctions.



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