The first of five tankers loaded with gasoline sent from Iran reached Venezuelan waters late Saturday, a Venezuelan government official said.
“The ships … are in our exclusive economic zone," Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami wrote on Twitter after the arrival of the first tanker, named Fortune.
The fleet is carrying about 1.5 million barrels of gasoline according to media reports, and arrives amid tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and Iran.
Venezuela had said its navy and air force would escort the tankers after Tehran warned of "consequences" if the US stopped the ships from reaching their destination.
“Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted. “Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people.”
According to shipping tracker MarineTraffic, as of at 9:00 pm local time Fortune was near the coast of Sucre state in northern Venezuela after passing off Trinidad and Tobago.
It plans to sail to the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello in northern Carabobo state, according to the state-run television station.
The rest of the Iranian ships -- the Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel -- will arrive in the next few days, according to state television.
The fuel from Iran comes at a time when the shortage of gasoline, chronic for years in some parts of the country, has worsened in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but its production is in freefall, a collapse that experts attribute to failed policies, lack of investment and corruption.
The US accuses Iran and other nations of propping up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It’s among nearly 60 nations that back opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president, contending that Maduro illegitimately won a 2018 election that banned his most popular opponents.
A defiant Maduro appeared on state TV days ahead of the ships’ arrivals, vowing a tough response to any US aggression against the Iranian tankers. He showed images of soldiers firing antiaircraft missiles streaking across the Caribbean.
“They want to enslave us,” Maduro said Thursday. “If you want peace, you must be prepared to defend it.”