CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — An Iran-flagged supertanker carrying more than 2 million barrels of condensate has docked at a Venezuelan port, with both countries facing U.S. sanctions, according to analysts and satellite images analyzed by The Associated Press.
The arrival of the oil tanker Starla comes as negotiations continue in Vienna over the Islamic Republic's tattered nuclear deal with world powers, which allowed for oil sales. In 2018, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord under then President Donald Trump, sparking years of tensions across the wider Mideast that continue today.
The Starla arrived off the coast of Barcelona, Venezuela, in late January. A satellite photo analyzed by AP from Planet Labs PBC showed the vessel there Sunday and corresponded to other images of the vessel and its helipad.
Its dimensions also matched those of the Starla, which is owned by National Iranian Tanker Co. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned the company in October 2020, saying it helped fund the expeditionary Quds Force of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
The Starla represents the first known condensate shipment of 2022 from Iran to arrive in Venezuela as part of a relationship between the two oil-exporting nations that are both under American sanctions.
Iranian state media has not acknowledged the Starla's arrival in Venezuela after earlier trumpeting other shipments. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, said the ship is carrying 2.1 million barrels of a very light form of oil based on natural gas that Venezuela’s state-owned company uses to dilute its heavy crude oil to turn into an exportable blend.
Madani said the vessel departed Iran on Dec. 11 and turned off its mandatory Automated Identification System for more than a month and a half. The system is used to prevent collisions, but companies in recent years have adopted a number of techniques, including turning it off, to evade detection as the U.S. has expanded economic sanctions.
Iran maintains close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a U.S. sanctions campaign. Madani said vessels carried condensate from Iran to Venezuela four other times since 2020, bringing in more than 8.3 million barrels.
Claire Jungman, the chief of staff at the New York-based group United Against Nuclear Iran who also tracks Iranian oil shipments, similarly identified the Starla from satellite images. Jungman said her organization had tracked an uptick in covert Iranian oil sales to China and Venezuela that she described as the countries “seeing how far they can push the Biden administration.”
“If the U.S. is going to just keep letting them slide by … Iran is going to keep stalling,” Jungman said. “They are getting what they want by the lack of enforcement on sanctions.”