The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Venezuelan regime, and the shipping companies that move their petroleum products are using military technology to hide the location of their ships, in order to circumvent U.S. sanctions, Associated Press reported on February 3.
According to the report, Windward, a maritime intelligence company whose data the U.S. government uses to investigate sanctions violations, said that since January 2020 it has detected more than 200 vessels involved in more than 350 incidents in which they had electronically manipulated their GPS location. The International Maritime Organization indicates on its website that all ships carrying more than 300 tons, including cargo and passenger ships, must be equipped with automatic identification systems.
Since the United States extended its economic sanctions against Venezuela in January 2019, Iran has turned off GPS transponders to block tracking of its oil tankers, and also changed the names of its ships, used the flags of other countries at its convenience, and registered its companies in tax havens, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Not only is Tehran sending diluents (condensates and light crude oil) to Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA to mix with Venezuelan extra-heavy crude to increase production, but it is also assisting the Nicolás Maduro regime by sending gasoline to supply Venezuela’s domestic market, José Toro Hardy, an economist specializing in oil and a former board member of PDVSA, told the BBC on January 18.
“That oil that is leaving […], regardless of the sanctions that both Venezuela and Iran have, is [going out] in unidentified tankers, which turn off the devices so as not to be located by satellite,” Hardy added.
In 2021, PDVSA and the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company exchanged about 4.8 million barrels of condensate for 5.5 million barrels of heavy crude, mostly transported on Iranian-flagged vessels, Reuters reported on January 31.
Reuters reported that the Iranian oil tanker Starla arrived in Venezuela in late January, carrying 2 million barrels of condensed oil, according to a PDVSA schedule of imports and exports. The vessel switched off its transponder in December 2021, before leaving the Iranian port of Tombak, the TankerTrackers.com monitoring service reported.
Venezuelan ships also change their names and owners many times and turn off their GPS system to hide their illicit oil trade, the U.S. magazine Forbes says. Most of the sanctioned Venezuelan fuel ends up in Asia; about 150 ships transported Venezuelan oil to Asian ports in 2020, Forbes added.
Francisco Monaldi, director of the Latin America Energy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Voice of America (VOA) in January 2019 how Iran helped the Maduro regime to “set strategies — such as transshipping oil at sea and laundering the capital from the oil traded — to evade foreign sanctions and recover their operations as international markets began to recover from the pandemic’s effect.”
“The United States, in joint statements with the European Union, Canada, Colombia, and other countries, have made it clear that we will review sanctions policies [against Venezuela] if all sides make significant progress toward a democratic solution,” U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story told VOA on February 4. “We are ready,” he concluded.