An Iranian destroyer and support vessel are sailing in the Atlantic Ocean in a rare mission far from the Islamic Republic, Iran’s state TV has reported.
The trip by the new domestically built destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran comes amid US media reports that the ships are bound for Venezuela.
The vessels departed last month from Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas, said Admiral Habibollah Sayyari.
He described their mission as the Iranian navy’s longest and most challenging voyage yet.
Iranian state TV released a short clip of the destroyer cruising through the Atlantic’s rough seas. The video was probably shot from the Makran, a converted commercial oil tanker with a mobile launch platform for helicopters.
“The Navy is improving its sea-faring capacity and proving its long-term durability in unfavourable seas and the Atlantic’s unfavourable weather conditions,” Mr Sayyari said, adding that the warships would not call at any country’s 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 suggest it left a port at Bandar Abbas some time after April 29.
The website Politico first reported in late May that the ships’ final destination may be Venezuela.
Iran maintains close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a US sanctions campaign targeting fuel-starved Caracas.
Venezuela is believed to have paid Iran, under US sanctions of its own, for the shipments.
A top aide to Mr Maduro has denied press reports that the ships will dock there.
During a news 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 able to violate this right, and I warn that no one makes miscalculations. Those who sit in glass houses should be careful.”
The fast-attack craft aboard the Makran are the type that the Guard uses in its tense encounters with US 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 boats are delivered, they may form the core of an asymmetrical warfare force within Venezuela’s armed forces,” the US Naval Institute said in an earlier published analysis. “This could be focused on disrupting shipping as a means of countering superior naval forces. Shipping routes to and from the Panama Canal are near the Venezuelan coast.”