Iranian fuel seized by U.S. to reach Texas within days - sources

LONDON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela that the United States seized last month is now being taken to Texas by two tankers due to arrive in coming days, part of Washington’s efforts to disrupt trade between Caracas and Tehran, according to sources and data.

In August, the U.S. Department of Justice said 1.12 million barrels of Iranian gasoline originally going to Venezuela were in U.S. custody following Washington’s largest-ever seizure of fuel shipments from Iran.

The first fuel cargo on Liberia-flagged tanker Euroforce is expected to arrive in Texas in the coming 24 hours, the sources said. It is broadcasting the U.S. Gulf port of Galveston as its destination, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.

The second cargo, on Singapore-flagged tanker Maersk Progress, is expected to arrive on Sep 19 to Houston, Eikon data showed.

The seizure occurred after a U.S. district court issued an order for the cargoes in a civil forfeiture case. Foreign partners of the United States, who have not been disclosed, assisted by transferring the fuel from four Iran-linked tankers to two vessels under U.S. special permits to reach its waters, according to sources.

This year, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has increased pressure on Iran and Venezuela through a separate series of sanctions, spooking oil customers and shipping firms, hitting exports in both countries and exacerbating a fuel crisis in the South American nation.

Eurotankers, which manages the Euroforce, and Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA, the intended receiver of the gasoline, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Maersk Tankers, manager of the second tanker, declined to comment due to clauses in its commercial agreements. “We are unable to disclose details on specific charters,” it said.

The Maersk Progress loaded through trans-shipment at Madagascar’s outer port limit zone in late July while the Euroforce turned its tracking transponder on in July after setting sail near Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, the Eikon data also showed. It first signaled Trinidad as destination, then Jamaica and now Galveston.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined comment. It has said it intends to auction the fuel, with proceeds going to U.S. victims of overseas terrorism.

The DOJ had also said the seizure had disrupted a multimillion-dollar fuel shipment by Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), designated by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization.

Iranian officials have denied the fuel was Iranian, while the owners of the fuel mounted a court challenge to the seizure.

U.S. officials had discussed, then dropped, options to publicly announce the arrival of the cargoes, as Washington wanted a more discrete arrival, according to the sources.

“It will be a low-key event,” one of the sources said.

Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Devika Krishna Kumar in New York, Humeyra Pamuk and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio