Fuel cargo loaded at Iran sets sail to Venezuela -data

Marianna Parraga and Luc Cohen

By Marianna Parraga and Luc Cohen

(Reuters) - At least one tanker carrying fuel loaded at an Iranian port set sail to crisis-stricken Venezuela, according to vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon on Wednesday, which could help ease an acute scarcity of gasoline in the South American country.

The Iran-flagged medium tanker Clavel earlier on Wednesday passed the Suez Canal after loading fuel at the end of March at Iran's Bandar Abbas port, according to the data.

The shipment marks the latest sign of cooperation between the two OPEC nations, whose oil industries are subject to U.S. sanctions. Starting last month, several flights from Tehran have brought materials to Venezuela to help it restart the catalytic cracking unit at its 310,000 barrel-per-day Cardon refinery.

Venezuela's 1.3 million-bpd refining network has all but collapsed due to underinvestment and lack of maintenance in recent years under socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse. Last year, the United States sanctioned state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as part of Washington's efforts to oust Maduro.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the shipments. Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela's oil ministry responded to requests for comment.

Four other vessels of the same size, all of them flagged by Iran and loaded with fuel at or near Bandar Abbas, are about to cross the Atlantic Ocean after passing Suez. They have not yet set their final destinations, the data showed.

But one of them, the Fortune, appears on a list of tankers scheduled to enter Venezuelan port, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Opposition politicians also said they had received information that all five tankers were heading to Venezuela.

"I hope it helps to mitigate the shortages, but the gasoline problem in Venezuela is structural, not temporary," said Luis Stefanelli, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly's energy committee.



(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)