DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran launched its first domestically-produced aframax oil tanker, Iranian media reported on Tuesday, sidestepping growing Western sanctions which have targeted oil exports and battered its maritime trade.
The oil tanker was ordered by Venezuela, Iran's Fars news agency reported.
"The production of the aframax ship is the first export shipbuilding activity of Iran, and we must continue by attracting more customers," said Mehdi Etesam, managing director of Iran Maritime Industrial Company SADRA, according to Fars.
It was not clear if further Iranian-made aframaxes were under order. Aframaxes can carry up to 700,000 barrels of oil.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed additional sanctions in March on SADRA, saying the firm had offices in Iran and Venezuela and was owned by Khatam al-Anbiya, an engineering company used by the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to fund its operations.
The Revolutionary Guard is a primary focus of U.S. and international sanctions against Iran because of the central role it plays in Iran's missile and nuclear programs, its support for terrorism and its involvement in serious human rights abuses, the U.S. Treasury said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose stridently anti-Washington politics are popular at home, has expanded ties with Iran as pressure on Tehran has grown over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program. Iran denies Western charges that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Despite the closer ties between Caracaas and Tehran, an EU ban on Iranian oil and insurance has hurt the OPEC producer's ability to sell its crude, while a prohibition on EU ship insurance provision has targeted the transport of oil.
Iran's top commercial tanker operator NITC has delayed the expansion of its oil fleet, company and industry sources said last month, as Western sanctions and a weak freight market hurt its ability to turn a profit.
Growing pressure by an influential U.S. lobby group has also led to top ship classifiers no longer verifying safety and environmental standards for Iran's biggest shipping firms. Without verification from such bodies, ships are unable to call at international ports in another blow that Tehran has to deal with.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and Jonathan Saul in London, editing by William Hardy)