The Trump administration seized four private oil tankers sailing Iranian oil to gas-short Venezuela in an effort to stymie the movement of currency and cargo between the two countries that the U.S. has classified as state sponsors of terrorism.
An Iranian naval ship was escorting a convoy of nine oil vessels, five that are owned by the country itself, and four that belong to private entities. When the U.S. government contacted the four ship’s owners to inform them of sanction violations, the vessels left the convoy, and have been rerouted to Houston.
The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit in July to commandeer the vessels as part of a “campaign of maximum pressure” the Trump administration is placing on Iran, who is largely considered the world leader of “state-sponsored terrorism” and has been directly involved in terrorist plots that have resulted in the deaths of U.S. citizens.
This is the first time the Trump administration was successful at confiscating cargo from Iran, who is notorious for appropriating foreign oil ships, after last year’s failed attempt to seize an Iranian oil tanker that was being held in Gibraltar.
The current lawsuit claims that the oil tankers were part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions by using shell companies to mask the shipment’s connection to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the United States has classified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The seizure, which reportedly was managed without the use of military force, is intended as a deterrent for companies attempting to do business with the authoritarian regimes of Iran and Venezuela.