The U.S. Military currently has Navy and Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Caribbean Sea to counter illicit drug trafficking in the area, but the presence of Iranian ships delivering oil to Venezuela, is a new concern.
With US imposed sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, it has been reported that the US may take steps to deter the shipments. Iran states they will retaliate if the tankers are blocked.
The Venezuelan military is escorting Iranian tankers of fuel to a once wealthy country now desperate for resources, struggling with an economic crisis, making the situation even more tense.
US officials are following the shipments “with concern” said US military’s Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller on Monday.
Although prepared to intervene if necessary, they downplayed the possibility of a confrontation. No plans have been announced around stopping the Iranian tankers.
“With respect to Venezuela, our focus has been to share intelligence, trying to figure out what Maduro and his cronies are up to,” said Faller.
The five Iranian oil tankers currently underway are the Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel and they are carrying about 1.5m barrels of fuel. They went through the Suez Canal earlier this month.
Venezuela has an exclusive economic zone that extends 370km (200 nautical miles) from it’s shores. The Defense Minister of Venezuela said the tankers would be “welcomed” into this zone.
Once the Iranian vessels reach the exclusive economic zone, “They will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation,” announced Gen Vladimir Padrino, Venezuelan Defence Minister on state television on Tuesday.
The Venezuelan permanent representative to the UN, Samuel Moncada told the UN Security council that the tankers are “Civilian vessels carrying vital goods for our people, coming from a country that has engaged in legal trade with mine. In the midst of a pandemic, forbidding those vessels from reaching our ports would thus constitute a crime against humanity.”
Jaun Guaido, the US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader said that the need to import the petrol shows the mismanagement of the oil industry by the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuela has a large amount of reserves, but their oil production has dropped over the last two decades. In recent weeks people have been waiting in long lines in order to fill up their vehicles.