The Department of Justice has issued warrants to seize oil products from four tankers bound for Venezuela because they violate U.S. sanctions. FBI and Homeland Security investigators discovered that the 4 tankers in question belong to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), designated as a terrorist organization by the state department.
The orders to seize the gasoline mean there very likely could be some kind of confrontation on the high seas.
Profits from the shipments are allegedly intended to support terrorism and a “full range of nefarious activities,” ranging from buying weapons of mass destruction to funding human rights abuses. The four ships are carrying a combined total of more than a million barrels of Iranian gasoline.
The complaint alleges that Mahmoud Madanipour, an Iranian businessman with ties to the IRGC and a separate United Arab Emirates-based trading company, arranged the shipments and attempted to conceal Iranian and IRGC involvement.
There’s not much doubt as to where the gasoline originated. Satellite tracking data clearly showed one of the four ships docking at an Iranian port and loading the gas as well as conducting a ship-to-ship transfer with another ship named in the warrant. The other ships also had transfers in a failed effort to hide from where the gasoline came.
UPI reports that an unindicted co-conspirator contacted the Iranian businessman and told him of the reluctance of two of the captains to proceed.
According to the complaint, an unnamed co-conspirator texted Madanipour that there have been issues with the Bella and the Bering due to the U.S. sanctions.
“The ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed we will also buy the ship,” the co-conspirator told Madanipour, according to the complaint.
This is obviously a highly sophisticated, extremely well-financed operation if a go-between could authorize buying an oil tanker.
The Iranians are not amused.
Any attempt on the high seas to prevent Iran from engaging in lawful trade with any country it chooses will be an act of piracy, pure & simple. It comes as no surprise, however,as the US has consistently shown it has no respect for int. or maritime law1/2 https://t.co/AR90DWGjCm
— Alireza Miryousefi (@miryousefi) July 2, 2020
“This is a direct threat to international peace and security,” he wrote. “And in contravention of international law, including the UN Charter.”
U.S. officials called the move a “propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously.”
Iran sent five tankers to Venezuela last month that the U.S. Navy chose not to intercept. But this time, it may be different, if for no other reason than the Department of Justice is looking to make an example of the ships for violating sanctions. The U.S. government sanctioned the five ship captains who piloted their vessels to Venezuela with the Iranian gas but perhaps the administration believes it’s time for more direct action.
There’s no word if there is a naval escort from Iran and the ships are too far away for Venezuela to send its own vessels in support. Needless to say, the U.S. Navy would have no trouble brushing any opposition aside — peacefully, if possible.