"If the United States, just like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk and that will certainly not go without repercussion," Iran's Nour News Agency said on Friday, citing reports that US warships were en route to intercept the tankers in the Caribbean.
On Thursday, an unnamed US official told Reuters the Trump administration was considering possible actions against the tanker shipments.
“It is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region, and we’re looking at measures that can be taken,” the official said, who indicated Washington believed with a "high degree of certainty” Caracas intended to pay for the fuel with gold. Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Hojjatollah Soltani has explicitly denied the accusation.
Earlier on Friday, the US Navy's Twitter account shared photos of four US warships - three guided-missile destroyers and a littoral combat ship - on patrol in the Caribbean. It was the second such tweet this week, with another on Wednesday including a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
Squad goals in the Caribbean.— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) May 15, 2020
The #USNavy's #USSDetroit ,#USSLassen, #USSPreble, and #USSFarragut sail in formation while conducting maritime security operations in the @Southcom area of responsibility. pic.twitter.com/EKsjwEbsXh
According to reports, five tankers sailing under the Iranian flag are transporting refined fuel to Venezuela, where more than a year's worth of siege by the United States has strangled the Venezuelan economy, blocking importation of parts necessary to keep industries running. As a result, in January, the country was forced to shut down its last oil refinery, meaning that although its primary export is petroleum, Venezuela is now experiencing a fuel shortage.
Following reports of potential US actions against the shipment, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced the prospective actions on Twitter as "more evidence for the world that we will send to the International Criminal Court." He continued, "Against the background of the pandemic, Washington is tracing ships that transport our oil and carry fuel. This is a gross violation of international law and of the fundamental rights of Venezuelans.”
Last month, Tehran received significant flak for helping Caracas restart its broken catalytic cracking unit at the huge Cardon refinery, a necessary step in the refinement of crude oil into the variety of fuels that can be made from it.