The US government seized four vessels chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran, carrying an estimated 1.1 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela, a month after a district judge approved the seizure order by violating sanctions imposed on both nations by the Treasury Department.
News of the seizure comes just as a new fire has erupted in El Palito, the only gasoline-making refinery in operation. The plant was producing some 10,000 barrels a day, while Venezuela demands some 60,000 barrels a day of that fuel.
Venezuela is amid an acute gasoline shortage after years of corruption and mismanagement in state oil company PDVSA, despite having the largest oil reserves in the world and six refineries in the country. Weeks ago, Maduro received the first shipment of 1.5 million oil barrels, but apparently that stock has run out, as gas lines get longer, and street protests intensify.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the seized ships were the Luna, Pandi, Bella, and Bering, which were intercepted at sea and will now be taken to Houston, Texas, in US territory, according to an official who asked not to be identified.
So far, there has been no official statement from US authorities; however, on the night of July 1, four federal prosecutors requested the seizure of the cargo of the ships, estimated at 1.1 million barrels of gasoline. The order was confirmed a day later by District Judge James Boasberg.
As a way of circumventing the economic sanctions, Iran has been transporting the fuel into the country by selling the cargo to a company owned by Iranian businessman Mahmoud Madanipour, accused by the US of being a collaborator of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and who was in charge of chartering the vessels. All the tankers were sailing under Liberian flags.
Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho in Caracas.