May 22, 2020 | 4:48 pm

A flotilla of five ships carrying Iranian fuel for Venezuela is approaching the Caribbean, and the first ship would reach the waters of the South American country on Sunday, according to Eikon tracking data from Refinitiv.

Iran supplies about 1.53 million barrels of fuel to Venezuela, according to both governments, as well as sources and calculations from TankerTrackers.com based on the draft levels of the ships.

The ships have caused a diplomatic showdown between Iran, Venezuela and the United States as the first two countries are under sanctions from Washington, which is considering new measures in response to the situation.

The government of US President Donald Trump believes that fuel is paid for in gold, a Washington official told . last week.

The United States recently reinforced its naval presence in the Caribbean in what it said was part of the expansion of its anti-drug operations. But Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that he was unaware of any operations related to the Iranian shipments.

We continue to say that Iran and Venezuela, both isolated in the international order, (are) clearly violating international sanctions with this transaction.

said Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman.

Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino assured that his country will escort Iranian tankers in its exclusive economic zone.

The Iranian-flagged tanker Fortune, the first in the flotilla, was approaching the Caribbean Sea on Friday. He has been browsing with his satellite signal on since he passed the Suez Canal this month. The other four tankers follow the same route through the Atlantic Ocean, according to Eikon data.

OPEC member Venezuela desperately needs fuel to power up to 1,800 service stations that have been partially closed for weeks due to insufficient supplies from state-owned PDVSA refineries, which until March 10 worked at around 10% of its combined capacity of 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd).

Venezuela consumed 170,000 bpd of gasoline prior to the confinement measures related to the coronavirus. Fuel sales at service stations declined to around 40,000 bpd, due to rationing, according to independent calculations.

More than a decade of mismanagement and understaffing, coupled with U.S. sanctions since 2019, have limited imports and left refineries in poor condition. Equipment shipments on flights from Iran arrived in Venezuela in recent weeks to start repair work