PUERTO CABELLO: A worker of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA waves an Iranian flag as the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docks at the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello, in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela, on Monday. — 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 Tuesday and Refinitiv Eikon data showed a second vessel had entered its waters.

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

Refinitiv Eikon data showed that the tanker Fortune docked at one of El Palito’s berths around 1 am local time (0500 GMT). The second tanker to dock in Venezuela amid an acute gasoline shortage, “Forest”, arrived at the Paraguana refinery complex in northwest Falcon state, Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami wrote on Twitter. He also shared photos of the vessel at the dock.

Data from the website Marine Traffic confirmed the location of the ship, which entered Venezuelan waters on Monday. The Paraguana refinery, the largest in Venezuela and one of the largest in the world, can process 950,000 barrels of fuel per day, but its production has plummeted alongside the country’s crude supply. Venezuela is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues but its production has fallen to roughly a quarter of its 2008 level. 

Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s economy vice president and recently named oil minister, thanked Iran for sending “fuel, additives and spare parts” to increase fuel distribution and boost refinery output in the gasoline-starved country and criticized 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.

A senior Trump administration official said earlier this month Washington was considering a response to the shipments. A Pentagon spokesman said last week he was not aware of any military move planned. The first two vessels did not appear to face interference.

Neither the White House nor the State Department responded to requests for comment on Monday, an American holiday. Venezuela is suffering gasoline shortages due to the near-collapse of its 1.3 million barrel-per-day refining network after years of underinvestment, as well as US sanctions aimed at ousting socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela’s refining network in May increased its joint crude processing rate to about 215,000 barrels per day (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. – Agencies