Guyana, Venezuela foreign ministers agree to talks on survey boat arrest

- crew unharmed, says US oil firm

The foreign ministers of Guyana and Venezuela have agreed to meet this week on the Venezuelan navy’s arrest of the research vessel for a US company exploring for oil offshore Essequibo.

Guyana has condemned the detention last Thursday of the Research Vessel Teknik Perdana, indirectly under contract to the US oil company Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, which it says was doing seismic work in this country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), calling it a serious threat to the peace of the sub-region. Venezuela, however, has lodged an official protest, seeking an explanation for the boat’s presence in its “Atlantic seaboard.”

As a result, on the directive of President Donald Ramotar, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett on Friday made contact with Venezuela’s Minister of External Relations Elias Jaua, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday.

 Elias Jaua
Elias Jaua

“The Ministers agreed that dialogue was essential in an effort to find a peaceful solution to this matter as well as in preserving the relations which had developed between the two countries in recent years. In this regard, they agreed to meet in the coming week,” the ministry said in a terse release.

When contacted, Direc-tor General in the Foreign Affairs Ministry Ambassa-dor Elisabeth Harper was unable to identify a fixed date for the agreed meeting.

The Government of Guyana (GoG) had requested the immediate release of the vessel and its crew. However, there has yet to be any move towards meeting this request by Caracas and Stabroek News was told yesterday that the vessel, which is under escort by Venezuelan naval boats, would arrive at Margarita Island today.

Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkette
Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkette

The newspaper has also learnt that the crew and technical personnel on the vessel comprise five Americans, two Britons, five Malaysians, 14 Indonesians, two Russians, two Brazilians and a French citizen.

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation spokesman John Christiansen yesterday said that the latest information received by the company indicated that the crew was “unharmed.”

“…Our sole focus remains on their safety and safe passage to their respective homes,” Christiansen said in an email response to queries by Stabroek News yesterday.

Christiansen declined to provide more details calling the matter one of sovereignty between Guyana and Venezuela.

“It is our understanding the vessel is still being directed to the Isla Margarita and expected to arrive sometime on Sunday,” he said. “We continue to cooperate with the Government of Guyana and other relevant authorities to resolve this situation in a safe and expedient manner. Because this is an issue of sovereignty between Guyana and Venezuela, any additional questions need to be addressed by Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he added. Christiansen pointed out that the MV Teknik Perdana research vessel was indirectly under contract to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and conducting a seafloor survey under an agreement between Anadarko and the Government of Guyana.

On Friday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry disclosed that the RV Teknik Perdana was obstructed by a Venezuelan naval vessel, the Yukuana, while it was conducting surveys in Guyana’s EEZ.

According to the ministry, the crew attempted to explain that they were conducting “a multibeam of the seafloor in Guyana’s EEZ but the Venezuelans argued that the vessel was operating in their territory and instructed that the vessel switch off its engines and shut down its seismic equipment.”

At around 17:45 hrs, the ministry said, the RV Teknik Perdana, which was then located 10 21.0745 N, 57 31.1057W, was instructed to travel at 5 knots in a westerly direction, and at 20:30 hrs, it was instructed to increase speed to 7 knots and 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,” the ministry said. “The GoG is of the firm belief that the actions taken by the Venezuelan navy constitute a serious threat to the peace of the sub- region and the (GoG) therefore strongly condemns these actions,” it added.

Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on Friday reported that Caracas had entered an official protest with Guyana, seeking an explanation for the exploring boat’s presence in what it described as the “Venezuelan Atlantic seaboard.”

The report quoted the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that “The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela expresses its strong protest to the situation that arose with respect to scientific prospecting and exploration of the continental shelf and the seabed (of Venezuela), made by the vessel.”

It added that “the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reiterates its commitment to peace and the will not to return to past situations of confrontation with the sister Republic of Guyana, as well as to continue to persevere in the path opened by (late Venezuelan President) Commander Hugo Chavez to promote relations cooperation among peoples and strengthen the Latin American and Caribbean integration.”

The detention on the vessel is the most serious diplomatic incident between the two countries for the last few years and comes at a difficult time for both the Donald Ramotar and Nicolas Maduro administrations.

It also comes just weeks after an official visit by President Maduro to Guyana on August 31. During his visit, Maduro and Ramotar recommitted to the United Nations Good Offices Process in the search for a peaceful and practical settlement of the border controversy. Maduro had said, “In our discussions today we also agreed to renew the Good Offices Process of the United Nations (UN)” – a reference to the mechanism employed under the Geneva Agreement of 1966 to find a means to resolve the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy

He further said, “We want to ratify as well that we are ready to continue working despite the legacy of the border dispute that we have inherited from the empires of the past and we are ready to continue working through the Good Offices of the United Nations organisation considering this as the sole and successful mechanism to allow us to channel our differences using international law.”

Macluro’s visit was, however, marred by 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.

Two weeks after the incident, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon reported that the Venezuelan delegation that crossed into Eteringbang, Cuyuni/Mazaruni had offered an apology for the breach in the agreement under which they were allowed to enter the country.

He said 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,” he was quoted as saying by the Government Information Agency (GINA).

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 reported.

“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 report what form the apology took and who it was made to.

While Luncheon referred to the delegation as research students, 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].”

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.”

n June last year, the Government of Guyana signed an agreement with Anadarko Guyana Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, to undertake exploration in the deep waters of Guyana’s EEZ.

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