U.S. seized 1.1 million barrels of Iranian gasoline headed to Venezuela

U.S. seized 1.1 million barrels of Iranian gasoline headed to Venezuela

Back in May, Iran sent five tankers full of gasoline to Venezuela which was in the midst of a gas crunch because its refining capacity has plummeted. Iran and Venezuela attempted a second round but this time tried to deliver the gasoline covertly by using ship-to-ship transfers and four foreign-flagged tankers. In July the DOJ filed a “forfeiture complaint and warrant” with a federal court on the grounds that profit from the sale of the gasoline would go the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and be used to support terrorism. A judge issued a warrant and right around that time the four tankers involved in the scheme turned off their tracking signals.

Apparently the effort to disappear didn’t work because this Wednesday, the U.S. seized 1.1 million barrels of gasoline from the four ships. All of this was done without firing a shot.

Roughly 1.116 million barrels of fuel was confiscated from the foreign-flagged vessels M/T Bella, M/T Bering, M/T Pandi and M/T Luna, a Justice Department statement said, adding that the seizure took place “with the assistance of foreign partners.”

The cargo was intercepted on Wednesday, acting on a warrant issued by a U.S. District Court over a July 2 complaint seeking the forfeiture of all petroleum products aboard the vessels. The property is now in U.S. custody, the Justice Department said.

According to The Associated Press, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, no military force was used in the seizure of the cargo, and none of the ships was physically impounded. Instead, U.S. officials threatened ship owners, insurers and captains with sanctions to force them to hand over their cargo, the AP reported.

The government will still have to prove in court that the gasoline was subject to forfeit but assuming that happens, it would be sold and the profits used to benefit U.S. victims of the Iranian regime. But it doesn’t sound as if Iran will be complaining about the seizure because the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela claimed they had nothing to do with the gasoline from those four ships:

“The ships are not Iranian, and neither the owner nor its flag has anything to do with Iran,” Hojat Soltani said on Twitter in Spanish.

“This is another lie and act of psychological warfare perpetrated by the US propaganda machine,” Soltani said. “The terrorist #Trump cannot compensate for his humiliation and defeat by Iran using false propaganda.”

Also this week, U.S. Central Command says that Iran boarded a tanker in international waters:

As for the location of the four ships from which the gasoline was seized that’s not exactly clear though one of them might have been sold as scrap:

It is not clear where the vessels – the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna – or their cargoes currently are, but the ship captains weeks ago turned off their tracking devices to hide their locations, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at brokerage Caracas Capital Markets, who follows ship movements.

The Bering went dark on May 11 in the Mediterranean near Greece and has not turned on its transponder since, while the Bella did the same July 2 in the Philippines, Dallen said. The Luna and Pandi were last spotted when they were together in the Gulf of Oman on July 10 when the US seizure order came. Shipping data shows that the Pandi, which also goes by Andy, is reporting that it has been “broken up,” or sold as scrap, Dallen said.

Overall a pretty positive result for the U.S. and a bad one for Iran and Venezuela. And here’s the cherry on top. Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin is unhappy about it:

Correction: I accidentally wrote 1.1 million “gallons” of gasoline in the headline but it should have been 1.1 million “barrels.” Sorry for the error.

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David Strom 3:31 PM on February 02, 2023