The Trump administration has seized the cargo of four tankers, it was targeted at transporting Iranian fuel to Venezuela, U.S. officials said Thursday as it intensifies its campaign for maximum pressure against the two heavily sanctioned allies.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Washington filed a complaint of civil forfeiture that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
At the time, sanctions experts believed it would be impossible to enforce the U.S. ruling in international waters.
A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that no military force was used in the seizures and the ships were not physically confiscated. Instead, U.S. officials threatened shipowners, insurance companies and captains with sanctions to force them to hand over their goods, which are now becoming U.S. property, the official said.
Prosecutors claimed the four ships were transporting 1
Both officials agreed to discuss the sensitive diplomatic and judicial criminal acts only if granted anonymity.
“This is another lie and act of psychological warfare carried out by the American propaganda machine,” Soltani said. “The terrorist #Trump cannot compensate for his humiliation and defeat by Iran through false propaganda.”
It is not clear where the ships – Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna – or their cargoes are currently, but the masters were weeks ago turned off their tracking devices to hide their location, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner in brokerage. Caracas Capital Markets, which follows ship movements.
Bering went dark on May 11 in the Mediterranean near Greece and has not turned on its transponder since, while Bella did the same on July 2 in the Philippines, Dallen said. Luna and Pandi were last spotted when they were together in the Gulf of Oman on July 10, when the U.S. seizure order came. Shipping data shows that Pandi, who also goes by Andy, reports that it has been “broken up” or sold as scrap, Dallen said.
As commercial traders increasingly shoot Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has increasingly turned to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers supplying much-needed fuel to remedy shortages that have led to days-long gas pipelines, even in the capital, Caracas, which is usually spared such difficulties.
Despite sitting on the world’s largest crude reserves, Venezuela does not produce enough domestically refined gasoline and has seen its total crude production plummet to its lowest level in over seven decades amid the economic crisis and falling sanctions from the United States.
The Trump administration has increased pressure on shipping companies to comply with sanctions against US opponents such as Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In May, it issued an advisory call to the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to avoid sanctions such as dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and to turn off mandatory tracking equipment – both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
One of the companies involved in the shipment to Venezuela, the Avantgarde Group, was previously linked to the Revolutionary Guard and attempts to evade U.S. sanctions, according to prosecutors.
An affiliated Avantgarde facilitated the purchase of the Revolutionary Guard of the Grace 1, a ship that Britain seized last year on US allegations that it was transporting oil to Syria. Iran denied the allegations and Grace 1 was eventually released. But the seizure nonetheless sparked international resistance, with Iran retaliating by seizing a British-flagged vessel.
According to the asset forfeiture complaint, a named company invoiced Avantgarde in February for a cash payment of $ 14.9 million. For sale petrol on board Pandi. Nevertheless, a text message between Madanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggests that the journey had encountered difficulties.
“The shipowner will not go because of the U.S. threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed that we will buy the ship as well,” according to the announcement, whose excerpt was included in the complaint.