Venezuela detains oil survey vessel in local waters, Guyana protests

APNU condemns `provocative’ action of Venezuelan navy

A Venezuela frigate yesterday shadowed a research vessel for a US oil explorer in Guyana’s waters and later forced it to the Venezuelan island of Margarita where it is presently detained, sparking a strong protest from Guyana.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning said: “The Government of Guyana is of the firm belief that the actions taken by the Venezuelan navy vessel constitute a serious threat to the peace of this sub-region and the Government of Guyana therefore strongly condemns these actions.”

The move by Caracas comes after an August 31, 2013 visit by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to Guyana in which he and President Donald Ramotar recommitted to  the United Nations Good Offices process in the search for a peaceful and practical settlement of the border controversy between the two countries. On the very day of the visit, there was an intrusion at Eteringbang, Region Seven by Venezuelan soldiers and civilians, the latter with the intention of restating Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory.

According to the statement today from Takuba Lodge, “The Government of Guyana was informed that at approximately 16:00 hrs on Thursday 10th October, 2013 a Venezuelan armed naval vessel, the “Yekuana”, was trailing the seismic vessel, the RV Teknik Perdana which is under contract with Anadarko. The naval vessel obstructed the research vessel’s passage, requested them to change course and stop surveying. As is known, Anadarko has a petroleum prospecting licence to search for hydrocarbons in the Roraima block offshore Guyana.

“The crew of the RV Teknik Perdana explained to the crew of the Venezuelan vessel that they were conducting a multi-beam survey of the seafloor in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone.  The Venezuelan crew insisted that the vessel was doing such work in Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone and instructed that the vessel switch off its engines and shut down its seismic equipment.

“At about 17:45 hrs the Venezuelan naval vessel ordered the RV Teknik Perdana, which was then located at 10 21.0745 N, 57 31.1057W to travel at 5 knots in a westerly direction.  At approximately 20:30 hrs, the crew of the RV Teknik Perdana was instructed to increase speed to 7 knots and was given directions to sail to the island of Margarita in Venezuela.  It was then clear that the vessel and its crew were not only being escorted out of Guyana’s waters, but were under arrest. These actions by the Venezuelan naval vessel are unprecedented in Guyana Venezuela relations.

“One point is clear and that is that the RV Teknik Perdana was in Guyana’s waters when this incident took place.

“The Government of Guyana has expressed to the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela its grave concern about the incident involving the RV Teknik Perdana and has requested the immediate release of the vessel and its crew.  Guyana intends to employ all peaceful means to facilitate a prompt return to the status quo ante since neither the Venezuelan naval vessel, the agents of Venezuela, its Government nor any other State has the authority to exercise any action in Guyana’s territorial waters, its continental shelf or its exclusive economic zone without its express consent.

“The Government of Guyana is of the firm belief that the actions taken by the Venezuelan navy vessel constitute a serious threat to the peace of this sub-region and the Government of Guyana therefore strongly condemns these actions.

“Guyana believes in the peaceful resolution of disagreements amongst States.  It is for that reason that Guyana maintains that since the RV Teknik Perdana was merely collecting seismic data, and it will be some time before actual exploration for hydrocarbons could take place, there was and is ample time for Guyana and Venezuela to discuss any differences of view that may exist in relation to the provisional maritime boundary between the two States.  Guyana however maintains that the application of the principles of international maritime delimitation will vindicate its position that the RV Teknik Perdana was well within its maritime boundary when it was illegally evicted by the Venezuelan naval vessel.  Indeed so is the Roraima concession block.

“The Government of Guyana is committed to working with the Venezuelan Government to find a diplomatic solution to this problem which has arisen.”

Meanwhile, A Partnership for National Unity today condemned the actions of the Venezuelan navy.

“A Partnership for National Unity expresses its concern over actions by a Corvette of the Armada Bolivariana de Venezuela (Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela) in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone.

“APNU understands that the Venezuelan corvette – PC-23 Yekuana – entered Guyana’s waters at about 16:00hrs on Thursday 10th October 2013. A seismic survey vessel – RV Teknik Perdana – was conducting surveys in Guyana’s EEZ at that time. The Yekuana instructed the Perdana to proceed into Venezuelan waters where, it is presumed the vessel and crew were detained.

“APNU believes that the actions of the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela constitute a threat to international peace. It calls on the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to fulfill its obligations under Article 33 – for the “Pacific Settlement of Disputes” – of the Charter of the United Nations and to desist from resorting to armed force in its relations with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.

“APNU condemns the Venezuelan actions and expresses its unqualified support for a strong response by the Government of Guyana to safeguard this country’s territorial integrity”, a statement from the party said.

Political analysts have noted that the Maduro administration is under severe domestic pressure and weak. The analysts say elements in his government may well seek to exploit the border controversy for domestic purposes. It is however more likely, analysts say, that the Venezuelan military and right wing sections of the political establishment will seek to use the turmoil in Venezuela to rekindle domestic interest in the border controversy. Under the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Caracas had tamped down belligerence surrounding the controversy and it had not been prominent on the agenda between the two countries. In his final visit to Guyana before he passed away several years later, Chavez had offered conciliatory remarks which were taken to mean that Caracas would not oppose big development projects in the Essequibo region.

Further, under Chavez, Guyana became part of the PetroCaribe initiative which provides the country with oil on concessional terms. Caracas is also taking large amounts of rice from Guyana each year to be offset by the cost of the oil and relations have been generally improved in recent years. However, analysts had warned that with the narrow electoral win of Maduro last year over Henrique Capriles and the domestic pressures on him highlighted by deepening economic woes and food shortages, it would be foolish for Georgetown to believe that there were not significant risks on the horizon.

For these reasons, analysts had criticised Guyana’s low-key response to the Eteringbang intrusion on the day of Maduro’s visit. Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, two weeks after the incident had said that the Venezuelan delegation that crossed into Eteringbang, Cuyuni/Mazaruni last month had offered an apology for the breach in the agreement under which they were allowed to enter the country.

He said, according to the Government Information Agency that the delegation, comprising research students, arrived in Guyana on August 31 and obtained the approval from the relevant authorities. However, the soldiers that were accompanying them were told that they could not disembark their boat and enter the country armed.

“Official sources from the Guyanese authority at the border was that the visitors sought and received permission to engage the members of the Guyanese communities on the border who assumedly, had some relationship with Venezuela whether biological or trading relationship,” the HPS explained.

However, in relation to the soldiers, he said that they were not allowed and as such, their entry constituted a breach in the agreement, GINA related.

“They were not allowed was the official report provided by the Guyanese authorities, and it was as far as the authorities there were concerned, a breach of the agreement, the understanding under which they were allowed to enter Guyana, a breach once drawn to their attention they made the suitable apologies and corrected,” Luncheon said. It was not clear from the GINA press release what form the apology took and who it was made to.

While Luncheon referred to the delegation as research students. The Venezuelan newspaper El Universal described them as members of a group seeking to publicize Caracas’s claim to Essequibo.

The publication quoted Venezuelan Ricardo de Toma as saying: “We came here to carry out a civil exercise of sovereignty, but we do not understand what President (Nicolas) Maduro was doing there [in Guyana].” Maduro was on a visit to Guyana on the same day.

El Universal said de Toma and his colleagues were members of an organisation called ‘My Map of Venezuela also Includes our Essequibo’.

According to the publication, de Toma said that in spite of the mining projects Guyana has been developing in the “Essequibo-disputed area with Venezuela,” plus the granting of oil concessions in the Venezuelan Atlantic front, President Maduro “paid a visit (to Guyana) only to spread an ideological model.”

Observers had said that under no circumstances should Venezuelan military personnel have been allowed to cross the Cuyuni into Guyana on a false pretext.

In June last year, the Government of Guyana signed an agreement with Anadarko Guyana Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation a US based company to undertake exploration in the deep waters of Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

A press release from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) said then that the company sought to engage the Government of Guyana to conduct exploration activities in 2011 and had submitted technical proposals and held a series of discussions with senior government officials including President Ramotar.

According to the press release, the discussions resulted in an agreement to commence studying available data for the concession acreage, which will be referred to as the ‘Roraima Block’ in greater detail with a view to identify leads that could result in prospects favourable for drilling to locate potential resources of petroleum.

Oil exploration in Guyana’s waters has in the past attracted interference by both Caracas and Suriname in the west. Surinamese gunboats chased away an oil rig contracted by CGX in June of 2000, sparking years of dispute until its substantial resolution in Guyana’s favour after it formally went before the International Law of the Sea Tribunal in Hamburg, Germany.