Iran's foreign minister on Sunday warned the United States against sending his navy to the Caribbean to halt the transportation of Iranian fuel to Venezuela.
According to an oil shipping analyst, five Iranian-flagged tankers loaded with tens of millions of dollars worth of fuel are going to Venezuela.
In a letter to the head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, Mohammad Javad Zarif warned against "America's movements in sending its navy to the Caribbean in order to intervene and create disturbances in the [the] fuel transfer from Iran to Venezuela ".
He said any such action would be "illegal and a form of piracy", adding that the United States would be responsible for the "consequences", according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry.
A senior official of U.S. President Donald Trump"The government told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that the United States was considering measures that could be taken in response to the transportation of fuel from Iran to Venezuela in crisis.
Iran's Fars News reported on Saturday that it had received information that four US Navy warships are in the Caribbean for a "possible confrontation with Iran's tankers".
Zarif's deputy summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents Washington's interests in Tehran, to communicate Iran's "serious warning" on Sunday. Abbas Araghchi said that any potential threat to Iran's tankers would have a "quick and decisive response".
The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, the two main oil producers.
Top speed ahead
Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $ 45.5 million in oil and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela, part of a broader deal between the two countries sanctioned by the United States amid increased tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The oil tankers' trip comes after Venezuelan socialist leader Nicolas Maduro has already sought out Iran for help to fly necessary chemicals in a refinery aged in the midst of oil shortages, a symptom of the broader economic and political chaos that plagues the largest oil producer in Latin America.
For Iran, tankers represent a way to bring money to their money-hungry country and put their own pressure on the United States, which, under President Trump, has carried out maximalist campaigns against both countries.
But the strategy invites the chance for a renewed confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the United States in the Gulf, which has seen a series of escalating incidents that frequently involve the oil industry in the past year and in wider places.
"It's like a new one for everyone," said Captain Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at oil shipment company Refinitiv. "We haven't seen anything like this before."
All ships involved are owned by state-owned or Iran-related companies, which fly under the Iranian flag. Since the start of a pressure campaign on Iranian ships, mainly with the temporary seizure of an Iranian tanker last year by Gibraltar, the country's ships have failed to display flags of convenience from other nations, a common practice in international transport .
Nothing to lose
All ships appear to have been loaded from the Persian Gulf star refinery near Bandar Abbas, Iran, which produces gasoline, Raja said. The ships traveled across the Arabian Peninsula and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, according to data collected in the ship's Automatic Identification System, or AIS, which functions as a tracking beacon.
Given the overwhelming U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, Venezuela also sanctioned appears to be a country that would have nothing to lose by accepting the shipments.
Raja said Refinitiv had no data on any Iranian gasoline shipments that had been to South America before.
TankerTrackers.com, a site focused on the offshore oil trade, first reported that the ships were probably going to Venezuela.
The capacity of the five vessels is approximately 175,000 tons. In the open market, gasoline and the product transported would be worth at least $ 45.5 million, although Iran has probably reached an agreement with cash and no discount with Caracas, given the circumstances that the two countries face, said Raja.
It is not yet clear how the United States will respond to tankers. On Thursday, the US Treasury, the Department of State and Coast Guard issued a warning warning to the maritime industry about illegal shipping tactics and diversion of sanctions by countries like Iran.
The statement repeated an earlier pledge of up to $ 15 million for information that disrupted the Revolutionary Guard's finances. It also warned anyone "knowingly involved in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of oil" facing US sanctions.
The US Department of State and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Analysts are already warning of the growing chance of a new confrontation between the US and Iran.
In April, the US accused Iran of carrying out "dangerous and harassing maneuvers near American warships in the northern Gulf.