The Curious Case of the Ship Not Lost at Sea
Venezuela claimed the US seized a food shipment- the story quickly fell apart
(Baranquilla, Colombia) This week, Venezuela watchers saw a false news story blossom and propagate in real-time. It was a fascinating case study in how misinformation is amplified by Russian media and their allied voices, especially on the web.
On August 7th Delcy Rodriguez, vice-president of Venezuela made a claim through twitter that, if true, would be troubling.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela denounces before the world that at this moment a ship is being held at Panama Canal that is carrying 25 thousand tons of soy protein for the production of food in our country, in attention to the criminal blockade imposed by @realDonaldTrump
She provided no proof for her accusation, though a few minutes later she did post this screen shot from ship-tracker software showing the cargo ship supposedly held in the Panama Canal.
Strangely, Venezuela Analysis, the state-run media company of Venezuela did not pick up the story. TeleSur, whom have often backed up other ridiculous and debunked claims from the Maduro government, decided to run it.
There was just one problem; The official twitter account of the Panama Canal responded to the swirling internet rumors and released a statement denying that any ship was being held.
“ All scheduled transits are occurring normally and without any delays. No ship is currently being held in custody.” — the company stated.
Reuters and and CNW (Conflict News Network) ran stories contradicting Rodriguez’s claims.
Soon, it was being picked up in other other minor publications, most of which are associated (scroll all the way down) with Venezuela Analysis. It seems the state-run Venezuelan news company preferred to put out such a shaky story through it’s subsidiaries rather than publish directly under its name.
By this time, the story was gaining traction in English “alternative media” about Venezuela.
But it all quickly started to fall apart. Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal deleted their links to the story when inconsistencies began to emerge, and shortly after the Panama Canal denied that anything had happened.
But Rodriguez doubled down with the following tweet, claiming that recent sanctions were the culprit; the insurance company was preventing the soybean cakes from reaching Venezuela, she claimed, and posted a screenshot of what is purportedly a Whattsapp message as proof.
TeleSur and Anya Parampil followed her down the increasingly surreal rabbit hole.
There are a number of problems with Rodriguez’s doubling down on an increasingly shaky story:
- Screen shots of the ship, Hong Kong based BULKTEC, (which has a total cargo of 20,000 tons, 5k lesss than Rodriguez’s claim of the size of the “blocked” soybean shipment) showed the ship on the point of arrival at it’s destination, which wasn’t Venezuela at all, but rather Aruba.
- Whattapp doesn’t separate words within its columns- ever. Look through your messages. We experimented with the same font Rodriguez used. The image, purportedly from a Whattsapp conversation, is almost definitely not.
- No other government has bothered to comment, including China, who would presumably have a lot of incentive to make the US look bad in Venezuela- especially considering recent tariffs and China’s claims that the protests in Hong Kong are the fault of the US.
Taken together, the claims put forth by the Maduro government are a better case study in how misinformation is spread globally by a Russia led coalition of “media organizations” than they are proof of malicious US intentions.
The Curious Case of the Ship Not Lost at Sea, is just one more example of the frequent and boundless accusations the Maduro government makes in attempts to portray itself as the victim.
Joshua Collins is a freelance reporter covering the Venezuelan immigration from the border in Cucuta, Colombia. He is also the editor of Muros Invisibles.