Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, waits to greet Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, not pictured, at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, June 21, 2019.
Carlos Becerra | Bloomberg | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The Department of Treasury slapped fresh sanctions on four companies operating in Venezuela’s oil sector, a frequent target of the Trump administration for its financial support to President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.
“The illegitimate Maduro regime has enlisted the help of maritime companies and their vessels to continue the exploitation of Venezuela’s natural resources for the regime’s profit,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Tuesday. “The United States will continue to target those who support this corrupt regime and contribute to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”
“Maduro’s corrupt regime is directly responsible for the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, adding that “the international community should increase pressure against the Maduro regime until it relinquishes its illegitimate hold on power.”
The sanctions are targeted at the following entities, according to Treasury:
- Afranav Maritime is based in the Marshall Islands and is the registered owner of the vessel Athens Voyager. Athens Voyager is a Panamanian-flagged crude oil tanker that has continued to lift oil cargoes from Venezuelan ports as recently as mid-February.
- Seacomber is based in Greece and is the registered owner of the vessel Chios I. Chios I is a Maltese-flagged crude oil tanker that has continued to lift oil cargoes from Venezuelan ports as recently as mid- to late February.
- Adamant Maritime is based in the Marshall Islands and is the registered owner of the vessel Seahero. Seahero is a Bahamian-flagged crude oil tanker that has continued to lift oil cargoes from Venezuelan ports as recently as late February.
- Sanibel Shiptrade is based in the Marshall Islands and is the registered owner of the vessel Voyager I. Voyager I is a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker that has continued to lift oil cargoes from Venezuelan ports as recently as late April.
The latest revelation comes as the last of five Iranian tankers carrying gasoline was escorted by Venezuela’s navy through the South American nation’s waters this week.
The Iranian tankers brought approximately 1.5 million barrels to the gas-starved country, which was once a prominent fuel exporter. Gasoline is scarce in Venezuela due to a near-complete breakdown of the OPEC nation’s 1.3 million barrel-per-day refining network.
The move was likely to anger Washington as Tehran and Caracas sidestep U.S. sanctions. The Trump administration has previously said that it was considering a response to the shipments.
The two OPEC nations have previously helped each other in the face of U.S. sanctions. In 2010-2011, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, sent fuel to Iran, which was targeted by sanctions aimed at stifling its nuclear weapons program.
Iranian flagged fuel tanker ‘Fortune’ is seen after it was docked at El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello, state of Carabobo, Venezuela, on May 26, 2020.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The United States recently beefed up its naval presence in the Caribbean for what it called an expanded antidrug operation. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday he was unaware of any operations related to the Iranian tankers.
Over the weekend, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of retaliation if Washington caused problems for tankers carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
“If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face trouble caused by the Americans, [the U.S.] will also be in trouble,” Rouhani said in a telephone conversation on Saturday with Qatar’s Emir, Mehr reported.
Venezuela — once the crowning jewel of Latin America’s developing economy — has hit dire straits in recent years.
Oil, the country’s biggest export, has plummeted more than 60% since Maduro succeeded dictator Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s president in 2013.
Earlier this year, U.S. crude prices briefly traded in negative territory for the first time ever as the coronavirus dented the global economic growth outlook.
The drop in oil prices, a massive depreciation of the Venezuelan bolivar along with sky-high inflation have left Venezuela scrambling for cash.
Last week, Maduro’s administration launched a legal campaign aimed at forcing the Bank of England to hand over more than $1 billion in gold. The Maduro-led government claims it needs the money for its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bank of England is holding Venezuela’s gold as part of U.S. and U.K. sanctions targeting the South American nation.
— Reuters contributed to this report.