Iran and Venezuela use military technology to evade US sanctions

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By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
March 09, 2022

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The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Venezuelan regime and the shipping companies that transport their petroleum products are using military technology to hide the location of their ships, in order to circumvent US sanctions, Associated Press announced on February 3.

According to the report, Windward, a maritime intelligence firm whose data the US government uses to investigate sanctions violations, said that since January 2020 it had detected more than 200 vessels involved in more than 350 incidents in which they had electronically manipulated their GPS position. The International Maritime Organization states on its website that all ships carrying more than 300 tons, including cargo ships 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 disabled GPS transponders to block the tracking of its tankers, and has also changed the names of its ships, used the flags of other country at his convenience and registered his companies in tax havens, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported.

A photo taken on June 2, 2021 shows smoke billowing from the site of a refinery fire in the Iranian capital Tehran. – A violent fire broke out at a refinery in southern Tehran after a liquefied gas pipe leaked and exploded, the head of the capital’s crisis team told state television. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Illegal fuels

Not only does Tehran send diluents (condensates and light crude oil) to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA to mix with Venezuelan extra-heavy crude in order to increase production, but it also helps the regime of Nicolás Maduro by sending gasoline to supply the Venezuelan domestic market. , José Toro Hardy, an economist specializing in oil and a former member of the board of directors of PDVSA, told the BBC January 18.

“This oil that goes away […]regardless of the sanctions imposed by Venezuela and Iran, 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 traded approximately 4.8 million barrels of condensate for 5.5 million barrels of heavy crude, mostly transported on Iranian-flagged vessels, Reuters announced on January 31.

Reuters reported that the Iranian tanker Starla arrived in Venezuela at the end of January, carrying 2 million barrels of condensed oil, according to a schedule of imports and exports from PDVSA. The ship turned off its transponder in December 2021, before leaving the Iranian port of Tombak, the TankerTrackers.com monitoring service reported.

Venezuelan vessels also change names and owners several times and turn off their GPS systems to hide their illicit oil trade, according to the American magazine Forbes said. Most sanctioned Venezuelan fuel ends up in Asia; about 150 ships transported Venezuelan oil to Asian ports in 2020, Forbes added.

‘We are ready’

Francisco Monaldi, director of the energy program for Latin America at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said Voice of America (VOA) in January 2019, how Iran helped the Maduro regime “establish strategies – such as offshore oil transshipment and traded oil money laundering – to evade foreign sanctions and resume operations as markets international organizations were beginning to recover from the impact of the pandemic”.

“The United States, in joint statements with the European Union, Canada, Colombia and others, has made it clear that we will review sanctions policies [against Venezuela] if all parties make meaningful progress toward a democratic solution,” U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story said. VOA February 4. “We are ready,” he concluded.

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