The U.S. expressed concern last week following reports about two Iranian Navy ships sailing in the Atlantic Ocean in the direction of Venezuela that are apparently trying to deliver oil and weapons to that country. But the Americans have few legal options for stopping the ships.
One of the ships is apparently carrying a cargo of three million gallons of oil intended for Venezuela, which is under American sanctions. Sal Mercogliano, an expert on maritime affairs, told the London Daily Mail that based on satellite imagery he reached the conclusion that the ship is riding very low in the water, a sign that it is carrying a large shipment of oil. It is also possible that the ship is transferring oil to the second ship, the Sahand.
Satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies published photographs that, in its opinion, proves that the second ship is carrying at least seven fast attack craft in addition to the cargo of oil. The British newspaper wrote that there is a well-known Iranian method of using such speedboats to surround larger ships and attack them with machine gun and rocket fire.
Iran has already sent several oil tankers to Venezuela, and the U.S. says that it intercepted several of them that were not bearing the Iranian flag. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed concern that the ships are bringing military equipment to Venezuela, and according to the Politico website, the weapons were purchased by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said that his country would be prepared to respond if it becomes clear that it is an effort to transfer weapons. But experts claim that neither the U.S. nor any other country has the legal grounds to stop a foreign country's ship while at sea in international waters.