The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who had delivered oil to Venezuela, and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed Washington's backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Speaking at a press conference at the State Department, Pompeo said the ships delivered around 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline and related components, and warned any mariners against doing business with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose ouster Washington wants.
"As a result of today’s sanctions, these captains’ assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation," Pompeo said in a statement later. "Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk," he said.
The Trump administration, which is seeking both to block Iran's energy trade and bring down Maduro, has threatened reprisals and warned ports, shipping companies and insurers against facilitating the tankers.
The OPEC member's exports are hovering near their lowest levels in more than 70 years and the economy has collapsed, but Maduro has held on - to the frustration of the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Iran has since April sent five tankers totalling about 1.5 million barrels to the leftist government of fuel-starved Venezuela, though the shipments have done little to alleviate hours-long lines at gas stations.