An Iranian destroyer and support ship are now sailing the Atlantic Ocean on a rare mission away from the Islamic Republic, Iranian state television reported, amid speculation the ships may be bound for Venezuela.
The destroyer Sahand and intelligence vessel Makran left last month from Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iranian deputy chief Admiral Habibibollah Sayyari said Thursday. He described the mission as the Iranian Navy’s longest and most difficult trip to date, without further details.
Iranian state television broadcast a short clip of the destroyer sailing the rough seas of the Atlantic. The video was most likely shot from the Makran, a converted commercial tanker with a mobile helicopter launch pad.
“The Navy is improving its maritime capability and proving its long-term durability in adverse seas and adverse Atlantic weather conditions,” Sayyari said, adding that warships would not call at any other port during the mission.
Images from Maxar Technologies dated April 28 appear to show seven Iranian rapid attack devices typically associated with its paramilitary Revolutionary Guards on the Makran Bridge. Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc suggest it left a port in Bandar Abbas sometime after April 29. It is not known exactly where the Makran and the destroyer are currently located.
In late May, the Politico website cited unnamed officials suggesting that the final destination of the ships could be Venezuela. Iran has close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and has shipped gasoline and other goods to the country as part of a US sanctions campaign targeting run-out Caracas. Venezuela reportedly paid Iran, under its own US sanctions, for the shipments.
At a press conference on May 31, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh declined to say where the Makran was going.
“Iran is always present in international waters and it has this right based on international law and it can be present in international waters,” he said. “No country is in a position to violate this right, and I warn that no one makes miscalculations. Those who sit in glass houses must be careful.
The rapid attack devices aboard the Makran are of the type 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 these ships.
“If the ships are delivered, they could form the core of an asymmetric war force within the Venezuelan armed forces,” the US Naval Institute said in a previously released analysis. “It could be focused on disrupting navigation as a way to counter superior naval forces. The shipping routes to and from the Panama Canal are found near the Venezuelan coast.
Earlier this month, fires sank Iran’s largest warship, the 207-meter (679-foot) Kharg, which was used to refuel other fleet ships at sea and conduct drills. training. Authorities have given no cause for the blaze, which followed a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 targeting commercial vessels in Middle Eastern waterways.
The unusual trip precedes the Iranian presidential election on June 18, which will see voters choose a successor to the relatively moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani.