LONDON: The US is considering imposing sanctions on dozens of additional foreign oil tankers for trading with Venezuela, US officials said, the latest effort to sever what Washington sees as a lifeline for President Nicolas Maduro.
Some sanctions could be announced in the near term while others could be imposed over a longer period if the trading activity persists in violation of US restrictions, one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.
Four shipping sources said that potential sanctions on at least 40 ships could be imposed soon, although the Trump administration had not finalized a decision.
Such a move could disrupt global seaborne trade by sharply raising tanker rates. Vessels that could be targeted include 25 supertankers, which can each carry a maximum of 2 million barrels of oil, and 17 smaller vessels, the sources said.
“The net effect may be a clear message to all ship owners: consider Venezuela off limits,” said a senior US official. A State Department spokesman said that US authorities “continue to engage with companies in the energy sector on the possible risks they face by conducting business with PDVSA,” but did not directly address the question about the expected sanctions.
“Flag registries, shipping companies and their associated suppliers/vendors be warned: Illegal transactions with the illegitimate regime of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro may subject you to crippling financial and economic sanctions,” the White House’s National Security Council warned in a tweet on Tuesday.
Taking aim at two heavily sanctioned foes, the US is also seeking to deter further fuel shipments from Iran to gasoline-starved Venezuela, US officials have said.
The US and dozens of other nations regard Maduro and his socialist government as illegitimate because of a 2018 election widely seen as fraudulent. Maduro has accused Washington of orchestrating a coup to remove him to gain control of the South American nation’s oil reserves.
US officials have steadily added tankers and shipping companies to the blacklist over their dealings with Venezuela since Washington imposed sanctions last year, and have warned of more targets if they fail to abide by sanctions.
Some US officials have said privately that President Donald Trump has become frustrated by the failure to oust Maduro, who retains the support of the Venezuelan military as well as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.
Earlier this week the US Treasury said it had imposed sanctions on four shipping firms for transporting Venezuelan oil, escalating the political standoff by curbing the OPEC nation’s crude exports.