Exclusive: 'Perfect trips' - Venezuela ships jet fuel to Iran in exchange for gasoline - sources

By Marianna Buitrago and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) — In exchange for essential gasoline imports to Iran, Venezuela ships jet fuel to the South American nation as part of a trade arrangement between two State oil companies, three persons understanding the matter told Reuters.

Iran has expanded aid to Venezuela since the US tightened sanctions on both countries last year, impacting oil exports by state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela companies and the Iranian National Oil Company (NIOC).

Iran also sent flotilla of state-operated gasoline and engine fuel feed tankers to Venezuela, as well as machinery and spare parts to assist the once wealthy OPEC Nation in restarting its wasteful refineries.

But the countries have given no information on what Iran receives in exchange from Venezuela.

The Iranian Embassy to Caracas said in August that, as part of "win-win commercial relations." Venezuela delivered mangoes and pineapples in Iran.

Both Caracas and Tehran – which the US has supported in order to avoid its nuclear program – have praised Iranian fuel exports in order to withstand pressure from their shared foe.

However, one source said that last year NIOC and PDVSA agreed to exchange Venezuela's jet fuel for Iranian petrol.

The fuel exchange indicates that Iranian fuel exports to Venezuela could be retained in the longer term, rather than a temporary expediency.

Jet fuel in Venezuela is now plentiful thanks to the shutdown of the bulk of domestic air traffic because of coronavirus restrictions.

The jet fuel is shipped into Iranian petrol tankers, which supply gasoline to Venezuela to ensure an unrestricted flow of refined fuels and use tankers, the source added.

These offers are known in the shipping industry as "perfect trips" as ships fly in both directions are fully loaded.

Since Washington began to sanction vessel operators, several independent tanker companies became hesitant to ship Venezuelan oil or imported country petrol.

The source added: "Each cargo is priced and compensated later. If there are differences in value (between swap shipments), they are paid through future cargoes,"

Venezuela has utilized shipments of its Merey heavy crude for Iran in the face of a defect in the value of exports of jet fuel, with at least 1,9 million barrels of cargo being exported to the NIOC since October in line with Reuters' sources and PDVSA records.

According to data from Refinitiv Eikon, the process has allowed the two state firms to dispatch cargoes on and off Venezuela on board Iran-flagged vessels docked at least three times since May 2020 in South American ports.

PDVSA provides Iranian oil at dollar rates in a pump that has flooded it with the foreign currency that it badly wants for operations.

It's not clear if Iran uses the Venezuelan jet fuel for domestic use or whether cargo is re-sold.

Neither the PDVSA nor the oil ministry of Venezuela answered the requests for comment.

NIOC and Iran's United Nations mission did not respond directly to requests for comments.

TRIPS Fine

On its most recent trip to Venezuela, the Iran-flagged tanker Fortune, operated by the state-owned National Iranian Tankers Company (NITC), paid 250,000 Barrels of Venezuelan jet fuel in the eastern port of Puerto La Cruz at the beginning of Feb.

A third person knowing the matter stated, that on departing from South America, both the Fortune and another Iranian tanker, the Faxon, who traveled from Iran's Bandar Abbas port to Puerto La Cruz between May and February, were again completed, although the person didn't know with what commodity they had filled.

NITC refused to comment on this.

Venezuela sent alumina to Iran in addition to the jet fuel aboard a cargo vessel which supplied the supermarket in Caracas, since a long-standing economic collapse has led to a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

U.S. officials said Caracas pays Tehran for gold, too.

In February, Iran also resumed catalyst airlifts to Venezuela to assist PDVSA in improving its 1.3 million barrel per day fuel supply, which appears to be largely idle.

Any of Iran's fuel shipments were intercepted by the United States last year.

Department of Justice, aggravating the extreme petrol shortage of Venezuela.

(Deisy Buitrago reports in Caracas and Marianna Parraga reports in City of Mexico. Mircely Guanipa reports in Maracay, Venezuela and Parisa Hafezi reports in Dubai.

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