Sept 28 (Reuters) – The first of a group of three tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela entered the waters of the South American nation on Monday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, in the most recent sign of the countries’ expanding trade.

The two OPEC members have increased cooperation this year by exchanging crude, fuel, food, equipment for refineries and other industrial goods. Many details about the transactions are not available, however.

The Iran-flagged tanker Forest, transporting some 270,000 barrels of fuel loaded in the Middle East, entered Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone around 8:05 a.m. local time (1205 GMT) without any disturbances, according to the data.

Two Iranian tankers following the same route, the Faxon and the Fortune, are crossing the Atlantic Ocean with estimated dates of arrival in early October.

Although both countries are under tough U.S. sanctions, Washington has not moved to intercept the vessels, which made a previous fuel delivery to Venezuela between May and June.

The United States in July seized a group of Iranian cargoes aboard privately owned vessels bound for Venezuela through a civil forfeiture case. The cargoes are expected to be auctioned soon, with the proceeds going to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Yahya Rahim-Safavi, former chief commander of Iran‘s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), told reporters on Sunday that Iran helps “every Muslim and non-Muslim country” that asks for help.

He said that Iran received gold bars in exchange for the gasoline previously delivered to Venezuela, sent by airplane “so that nothing would happen to it.”

“(The Venezuelans) have stood up to the Americans, and we are helping them, giving them software and giving them ideas, such as how to mobilize the people and how to repel cyber attacks,” he said.

Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, and the oil ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Forest, Faxon and Fortune are together expected to deliver about 820,000 barrels of gasoline and other fuels, helping to ease shortages in Venezuela.

More than 35 demonstrations – mostly peaceful – were held since the weekend to protest the lack of power, water, gasoline and other basic services, a Venezuelan NGO that oversees social conflict said on Twitter. Another organization reported that 31 people have been detained in recent days after similar protests.

Separately, an Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC) is expected to depart this week from Venezuela’s Jose port with 1.9 million barrels of Venezuelan heavy oil for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), according to a source and PDVSA loading schedules. The NIOC did not respond to questions about the plan.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; editing by Daniel Flynn, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

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