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Iranian and Venezuelan oil tankers have been carrying out ship-to-ship (STS) transfers in the open ocean in order to bypass US sanctions, according to an exclusive report by Reuters.
The report claims that over recent months, the allied nations have carried out STS transfers in a “remote spot” off the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
After delivering a cargo of Venezuelan heavy crude in the South China Sea in March, the Maximo Gorki supertanker reportedly rendezvoused with a VLCC (very large crude carrier), a National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC) vessel loaded with Iranian condensate.
“As Maximo Gorki was making its voyage toward Venezuela, Iran was able to send out a NITC tanker to meet it near the Maldives,” said Claire Jungman, chief of staff of the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) advocacy group.
“The location is strategically convenient for Iran, taking roughly five days for the Iranian tankers to get from Khor Fakkan to Malé,” the Maldives capital.
The Maximo Gorki docked in Venezuela last week and began discharging its cargo of two million barrels of Iranian condensate.
Its arrival came just days after Iran’s Dino I and Derya vessels delivered heavy crude and condensate to the Bolivarian Republic, as part of a swap agreement signed last year by the two countries’ state-owned oil companies.
The bilateral agreement hopes to increase Venezuela’s oil production across its refineries, which are already packed with Iranian modern equipment.
At least two million barrels of oil and one million barrels of condensate are expected to arrive in Venezuela this month from the Islamic Republic. In exchange, Caracas intends to send heavy crude and fuel oil to Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).
On 3 May, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro welcomed Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji to Caracas.
During his visit, Owji also met with his Venezuelan counterpart, Tareck El Aissami, and discussed “the construction of routes and mechanisms to overcome the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States government and allied countries.”
According to a report published on 21 January by The Miami Herald, last year, Venezuela managed to double its oil production as a result of assistance rendered by Tehran.
The report shows that Venezuela produced about 900,000 barrels of oil per day in December 2021, compared to the less than 450,000 produced per day during the same period in 2020.
The sharp increase in production is a result of the steady supply of thinners from Iran, which allow the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to process the heavy crude extracted from the Orinoco Belt.
In August 2020, Iran also came to the aid of Caracas to tackle a crippling nationwide fuel shortage by sending five supertankers carrying millions of liters of diesel.
The cooperation between the two countries – both of which are victims of unilateral sanctions by the US – has helped Caracas to stabilize its economy, which has been battered by US sanctions for years.