Fourth Iranian tanker docks at Venezuelan port, U.S. slams 'distraction'

(Reuters) - The Venezuelan navy said it escorted a fourth tanker bringing Iranian fuel through its waters on Thursday, while the United States called the shipments to the gasoline-starved country a distraction from problems facing President Nicolas Maduro.

The oil industries of Iran and Venezuela are both under U.S. sanctions. Iran is providing its fellow OPEC member up to 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and refining components to help ease an acute shortage, the result of the near-complete breakdown in its refining network as well as the sanctions.

Washington has said it is weighing a response to the shipments.

Venezuela’s military has escorted each tanker through its exclusive economic zone. The navy on Thursday posted images of its ships alongside the fourth cargo, on vessel Faxon.

Refinitiv Eikon data showed the Faxon docking at a port serving state-run PDVSA’s Puerto la Cruz refinery on Venezuela’s eastern coast on Thursday afternoon (2253 GMT). The third tanker to arrive, the Petunia, entered El Palito port earlier on Thursday, the data showed.

The first two were still discharging, and a fifth, the Clavel, was crossing the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said it would continue to “press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.” Washington, along with dozens of other countries, say Maduro rigged his 2018 re-election.

Maduro accuses the United States of seeking to oust him to control Venezuela’s oil resources.

But this week he also pledged to reform the fuel distribution system, stating that citizens would have to start paying for fuel after over two decades of heavy subsidies and frozen prices at the pump.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York, Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Mircely Guanipa in Maracay and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Grant McCool & Shri Navaratnam