MARACAY, Venezuela (Dispatches) -- The third cargo of an Iranian tanker flotilla carrying fuel for gasoline-thirsty Venezuela was approaching the nation’s exclusive economic zone on Tuesday as the previous two were preparing to discharge, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
The Iran-flagged tanker Petunia entered the Caribbean Sea on Monday after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, following the route taken in recent days by vessels Fortune and Forest.
The Fortune was welcomed at state-run PDVSA’s El Palito refinery by Venezuela’s oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, who thanked Iran for its support during the crisis, which has forced Venezuelans to wait in long lines for gasoline.
The deal has been criticized by the United States as both OPEC-member nations are under sanctions. A U.S. official said earlier this month that President Donald Trump’s administration was considering responses to the shipment, prompting the Iranian government to warn Washington against any military action.
The vessels did not appear to encounter any interference during their journey.
The second tanker in the flotilla, the Forest, changed its destination to a port serving PDVSA’s Cardon refinery, where it was expected to dock on Tuesday, according to two sources and the Eikon data showing its trajectory.
As it receives the imports, which include gasoline and components for motor fuel production, PDVSA is working to recover a portion of the domestic refining capacity it has lost in recent years due to mismanagement, lack of qualified personnel and delayed maintenance due to limitations under the U.S. sanctions.
The Venezuelan firm, whose nameplate refining capacity reaches 1.3 million barrels per day, increased crude processing for fuel production to about 215,000 bpd this month, from 110,000 bpd in March, according to sources and internal company data.
The hashtag #GraciasIran (Thank You Iran) has become top Twitter trend in Venezuela.
"We are fortunate to be able to count on Iran in these times,” El Aissami said from the port at the El Palito refinery in central Venezuela Monday.
"It is good that the U.S. has finally understood that it must respect its obligations and responsibilities to the international treaties including freedom of trade and maritime shipment,” Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Hojjatollah Soltani said on Tuesday,
"This must make it clear to the U.S. warlords that the observance of global rules and treaties by governments, including the United States, will make the world safer for all countries and the U.S.,” the envoy added.
Venezuela’s Telesur television network reported that gasoline production and distribution restarted at El Palito refinery after it received chemical additives and fuel from Fortune.
The Venezuelan Air Force released a video to praise Iran for sending fuel to the gasoline-starved country in defiance of the sanctions imposed by the "imperialist” U.S. regime.
"Iran and Venezuela, the two countries fighting against the U.S. imperialism with dignity and courage,” reads one of the captions shown in the video released by the Venezuelan Air Force.
"Our fight will prevail and we will win,” says another caption, referring to the joint fight against the U.S. imperialism. "Thanks to the people of Iran for their friendship.”
The video shows Venezuelan jet fighters escorting the second Iranian tanker, Forest, as it enters the South American state’s territorial waters.