The oil and chemical tanker Petunia (shown here in port) is said to be one of the five Iranian vessels bound for Venezuela. It is now being tracked near Gibraltar, at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. (marinetraffic.com)

Tehran, Caracas join forces to Test Washington’s Patience

A loose convoy of five tankers estimated to be carrying at least $45 million worth of gasoline and other petroleum products are said to be on their way from Iran to Venezuela, both of them countries under heavy US sanctions. The vessels are believed to have been loaded at a refinery in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas before making their way through the Suez Canal to a westward trajectory through the Mediterranean, according to tracking firms. Some of the ships changed their stated destinations mid-voyage, though all appear to be en route to Venezuela, on the northeastern coast of South America. At first, officials in both countries were rather circumspect, but the Iranian Foreign Ministry soon issued a statement saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had communicated with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warning that “piracy” could be committed by the US in any attempt to stop the shipments. It is not at all clear what Washington might actually due about the convoy, though the Caribbean approaches to Venezuelan ports should be considered more the home turn of US military vessels than Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz, where almost all US-Iran altercations have until now taken place.

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