An Iranian-flagged oil tanker docks at the El Palito refinery at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, May 25 2020. Picture: AFP
An Iranian-flagged oil tanker docks at the El Palito refinery at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, May 25 2020. Picture: AFP

Valencia/Caracas  —  The first of five Iranian tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela has moored at a port serving the El Palito refinery, the oil minister said on Monday, and Refinitiv Eikon data showed a second vessel had entered its waters.

Iran is providing Venezuela with 1.53-million barrels of fuel and refining components in a move criticised by US authorities as both countries are under US sanctions, according to the governments, sources and calculations by TankerTrackers.com.

Records show the tanker Fortune docked at one of El Palito's berths about 1am.

Venezuela's energy minister Tareck El Aissami thanked Iran for sending “fuel, additives and spare parts” to increase fuel distribution and boost refinery output in the petrol-starved country and criticised US sanctions.

“We are fortunate to be able to count on Iran in these times,” El Aissami said from El Palito, calling the Fortune a “symbol of the brotherhood and solidarity” between Iran and Venezuela. “We cannot allow any world power to act like a super-police.”

A second vessel, the Forest, entered Venezuelan waters on Monday and was also heading to El Palito, according to its trajectory shown on the Eikon data. A third tanker, the Petunia, was approaching the Caribbean. Reports said a total of five tankers were taking supplies to Venezuela.

A senior Trump administration official said earlier in May Washington was considering a response to the shipments. A Pentagon spokesperson said last week he was not aware of any military move planned.

Neither the White House nor the state department responded to requests for comment on Monday.

Venezuela is suffering fuel shortages due to the near-collapse of its 1.3-million barrel per day (bpd) refining network after years of underinvestment, as well as US sanctions aimed at ousting President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela's refining network in May increased its joint crude processing rate to about 215,000 bpd from 110,000 bpd in March, following the arrival of spare parts supplied in flights by Iran's Mahan Air, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 146,000 bpd El Palito refinery is now restarting its fluid catalytic cracker, a key unit for finished fuel production, one of the people said. The 187,000 bpd Puerto La Cruz refinery, which serves Venezuela's eastern region, remains out of service, the people said.

Reuters