Iran is sending a large fleet of oil tankers to Venezuela to help the Latin American nation survive a severe lack of fuel, Bloomberg has reported, citing sources. Both countries are facing US sanctions targeting their oil trade.

According to the sources, some of the flotilla of around ten Iranian vessels will also help export Venezuelan crude after discharging fuel.

The current fleet under sail is about double the size of the one that first startled international observers in May when crossing part of the Caribbean Sea patrolled by the US Navy, they said.

The last Iranian fuel shipments sent in early October on three vessels are running out, threatening steeper nationwide shortages.

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The sources said that the two nations are also discussing ways for Iran to help Venezuela overhaul its Cardon refinery, the last fuel plant there to operate more or less regularly.

The Iranian fuel shipments have been arriving in Venezuela despite Washington working hard to thwart the mission. In August, the US captured four Iranian cargo vessels on the high seas, taking hold of several fuel tankers on their way to Venezuela. The US has also sought to grab other Iranian vessels in the past.

“We’re watching what Iran is doing and making sure that other shippers, insurers, ship owners, ship captains realize they must stay away from that trade,” the US’ special representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said in September.

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Last tanker in Iranian flotilla reaches Venezuela, outmaneuvering US sanctions

Despite previous threats from Washington to halt the flow of fuel into Venezuela, Iran has remained adamant about the shipments, repeatedly stating they would continue.

Iran and Venezuela have both been hit by sweeping US sanctions, including restrictions targeting their energy sectors. Washington, which has been openly seeking to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has offered support to self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido, while slapping Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA with sanctions. As a result, Venezuelan oil exports, which account for most of the country’s budget revenue, tanked to multi-year lows. Oil production in the country, which has the world’s largest reserves, has plunged to a 75-year low.

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