An Iranian destroyer and support ship are now sailing in the Atlantic Ocean on a rare mission away from the Islamic Republic, Iran’s state television reported, amid speculation the ships could be bound for Venezuela.
The destroyer Sahand and intelligence collection vessel Makran left the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas last month, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Iran’s deputy army chief, said on Thursday. He described the mission as the longest and most challenging trip for the Iranian navy yet, without elaborating.
Iranian state television published a short clip of the destroyer navigating the rough seas of the Atlantic. The video was likely shot from the Makran, a converted commercial tanker with a mobile launch pad for helicopters.
“The navy is improving its navigation capabilities and demonstrating its long-term durability in unfavorable seas and unfavorable Atlantic weather conditions,” Sayyari said, adding that the warships would not call at any other port during the mission.
Images from Maxar Technologies dated April 28 appear to show seven Iranian fast attack craft typically associated with its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on the deck of the Makran. Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc suggest it left a port in Bandar Abbas some time after April 29. It is not known exactly where the Makran and the destroyer are now.
In late May, the Politico website quoted anonymous officials as suggesting that the final destination of the ships could be Venezuela. Iran maintains close ties with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a U.S. sanctions campaign targeting Caracas, which suffers from fuel shortages. Venezuela is believed to have paid Iran, under US sanctions, for the shipments.
During a press conference on May 31, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh declined to say where the Makran was headed.
“Iran is always present in international waters and has this right based on international law and can be present in international waters,” he said. “No country can violate this right, and I warn that no one makes miscalculation. Those who sit in glass houses should be careful. “
The fast attack ships aboard the Makran are the kind the Guard uses in their tense encounters with American warships in the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth, the Strait of Hormuz. It is not immediately clear what Venezuela’s plans would be for those ships.
“If the ships are surrendered, they can form the nucleus of an asymmetric warfare force within Venezuela’s armed forces,” the US Naval Institute said in a previously published analysis. “This could focus on disrupting navigation as a means of countering superior naval forces. The maritime routes to and from the Panama Canal are close to the Venezuelan coast ”.
Earlier this month, the fires sank Iran’s largest warship, the 207-meter (679-foot) Kharg, which was used to resupply other fleet ships at sea and conduct training exercises. Authorities offered no cause for the blaze, which followed a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 against commercial ships on Middle Eastern waterways.
The unusual trip comes ahead of Iran’s June 18 presidential election, in which voters will select a successor to the relatively moderate incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism