The Trump administration has seized the cargo of four tankers it was targeting for transporting Iranian fuel to Venezuela, US officials said Thursday.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Washington filed a civil forfeiture complaint alleging that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization. At the time, sanctions experts thought it would be impossible to enforce the US court order in international waters.
A senior US official told The Associated Press that no military force was used in the seizures and that the ships weren't physically confiscated.
Rather, US officials threatened ship owners, insurers and captains with sanction to force them to hand over their cargo, which now becomes US property, the official said.
Prosecutors alleged the four ships were transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline. But the tankers never arrived at the South American country and then went missing. Two of the ships later reappeared near Cape Verde, a second US official said.
Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela, Hojad Soltani, pushed back on what would appear a victory for the US sanctions campaign, saying Thursday on Twitter that neither the ships nor their owners were Iranian.
It is not clear where the vessels — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — or their cargoes currently are. But the ship captains weeks ago turned off their tracking devices to hide their locations, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at brokerage Caracas Capital Markets, who follows ship movements.