August 14, 2020 - 10:59 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The Trump administration has seized the cargo of four tankers it was targeting for transporting Iranian fuel to Venezuela, U.S. officials said on Thursday, August 13, as it steps up its campaign of maximum pressure against the two heavily sanctioned allies, Al Jazeera reports.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Washington filed a civil forfeiture complaint alleging the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
At the time, sanctions experts thought it would be impossible to enforce the U.S. court order in international waters.
A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press news agency no military force was used in the seizures and the ships were not physically confiscated. Rather, U.S. officials threatened ship owners, insurers and captains with sanction to force them to hand over their cargo, which now becomes U.S. property, the official said.
Prosecutors alleged the four ships were transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline. But the tankers never arrived at the South American country and then went missing. Two of the ships later reappeared near Cape Verde, a second U.S. official said.
Both officials agreed to discuss the sensitive diplomatic and judicial offensive only if granted anonymity.
"This is another lie and act of psychological warfare perpetrated by the U.S. propaganda machine," Soltani said. "The terrorist #Trump cannot compensate for his humiliation and defeat by Iran using false propaganda."
It is not clear where the vessels - the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna - or their cargoes currently are, but the ship captains weeks ago turned off their tracking devices to hide their locations, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at brokerage Caracas Capital Markets, who follows ship movements.
The Bering went dark on May 11 in the Mediterranean near Greece and has not turned on its transponder since, while the Bella did the same July 2 in the Philippines, Dallen said. The Luna and Pandi were last spotted when they were together in the Gulf of Oman on July 10 when the U.S. seizure order came. Shipping data shows that the Pandi, which also goes by Andy, is reporting that it has been "broken up," or sold as scrap, Dallen said.