(Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA has begun loading an Iran flagged large tanker with Venezuelan heavy crude for export, a source with knowledge of the situation said on Tuesday, as ties have deepened between the two OPEC nations.
Venezuela and Iran are under sanctions imposed by the United States, hurting their oil industries and hitting crude exports by shrinking the pool of customers and shipping companies willing to send vessels to their ports.
Washington has sought to disrupt the deepening bilateral trade between the two countries. The United States seized over 1 million barrels of Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela in July.
The Iranian-flagged very large crude carrier (VLCC) arrived in Venezuela’s main oil port of Jose this month carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian condensate to be used as diluent for Venezuela’s extra heavy oil production, according to company documents.
The tanker is now due to transport up to 2 million barrels of Venezuela’s heavy Merey 16 crude on its way back, in a sale agreed by PDVSA and the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), the source said.
Its sailing date and destination have not yet been scheduled, the source added.
PDVSA, Venezuela’s oil ministry and the NIOC did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The vessel is identified in international shipping registries under the name Horse, but was listed in PDVSA’s export schedules as the Master Honey, documents showed.
The tanker, owned and managed by National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), made the whole trip from the Middle East to PDVSA’s port with its transponder off and has remained offline while in Venezuelan waters, according to Refinitiv Eikon’s tracking data.
NITC could not be immediately reached for comment.
Many oil tankers have changed their names and even their managing companies after touching Venezuelan ports this year to avoid U.S. sanctions, according to public shipping registries and Refinitiv Eikon data.
Three Iranian tankers – the Fortune, Faxon and Forest – are also crossing the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Venezuela, according to the Eikon data, carrying gasoline to help ease an acute scarcity that has kept Venezuelans lining up in front of gas stations waiting for fuel.
The same vessels and two additional Iranian tankers delivered gasoline and other fuel to PDVSA between May and June, while the South American nation shipped a cargo vessel carrying alumina to Iran’s Bandar Abbas port.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Daniel Flynn and David Gregorio