The Donald Trump administration for the first time on Thursday seized the cargo of four tankers allegedly loaded with Iranian fuel in violation of sanctions imposed by the United States, The Wall Street Journal reported. Iran had reportedly planned to transport the gasoline to Venezuela.
The four vessels, called Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella, were seized in recent days and are now en route to US, unidentified officials told Reuters. The owners of the four vessels agreed to have them sail to the United States after talks with the government.
Last month, US prosecutors had filed a lawsuit to seize the gasoline aboard the four tankers amid escalating tensions with Tehran. The lawsuit aimed to stop the flow of revenues from oil sales to Iran, which Washington has sanctioned over its nuclear programme, ballistic missiles, and influence across the West Asia. However, Tehran claimed its nuclear programme is “for peaceful purposes”.
A judge had subsequently issued a warrant for seizure. The fuel cannot be seized until the tankers enter the territorial waters of the United States.
An unidentified US official told AP that no military force was used in the seizures and the ships were not physically confiscated. Instead, American authorities threatened the ship owners and others onboard with sanction to get them to hand over their cargo.
The United States has previously threatened to impose sanctions on any shipowners and vessels involved in oil trade with Venezuela and Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela, Hojad Soltani, claimed that neither the ships nor their owners were Iranian. “This is another lie and act of psychological warfare perpetrated by the US propaganda machine,” he tweeted. “The terrorist Trump cannot compensate for his humiliation and defeat by Iran using false propaganda.”