Venezuela yesterday released a ship it had arrested in Guyana’s waters on Thursday and while the crew was also freed its captain was charged with violating the boundaries of a “security zone” thereby setting the stage for what is likely to be a prickly meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in Trinidad tomorrow.
Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett is to meet her Venezuelan counterpart Elias Jaua at 2 pm in Port of Spain
With Guyana insisting that the ship was in this country’s 200-mile Exclu-sive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Venezuela now having charged the captain, there could be a protracted disagreement and observers say this could severely damage the prospects for oil exploration in Guyana’s western waters.
Earlier yesterday, it was reported by Reuters and Venezuelan media that the ship, Teknik Perdana and its crew had been released but that the captain had been charged with “failing to respect the boundaries of a security zone”. Observers say that Caracas appeared to have moved quickly to limit a broadening of the row over the fate of the 36-man multinational crew and the boat. The crew comes from eight countries including the US, UK and Russia. The vessel, Malaysian owned, had been contracted to do seismic work on behalf of US oil explorer, Anadarko. It is unclear if the vessel has left Venezuela’s waters.
According to El Univer-sal online, Venezuela’s Attorney General (AG) yesterday charged the Ukrainian captain Igor Bekirov for breaching the security zone. El Universal also reported that the owner of RV Teknik Perdana, Malaysian oil company SapuraKencana Petroleum, made the announcement yesterday and thanked Venezuelan officials for ensuring the security of the crew during their time in Margarita. Of the 36 crew members, five are American, fourteen are Indone-sian, and the rest are nationals of Russia, France, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
According to Reuters, the boat’s Malaysian owner, SapuraKencana Petroleum, said that Vene-zuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government had decided to free the vessel.
“We wish to express our gratitude to the Venezuelan government for caring for the safety and welfare of the crew, which comprises multiple nationalities, during the time they were at Margarita island and also for releasing the vessel,” the Kuala Lumpur-based company said in a statement.
Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen thanked Venezuelan and Guyanese authorities, Reuters said. .
“We are pleased that all 36 crew members of the MV Teknik Perdana and the vessel will reportedly be released in the near future. We extend our gratitude to the crew of the vessel, which has handled itself with the utmost professionalism throughout,” he said in a statement.
A third company – Texas-based researcher TDI-Brooks International whose scientists were on the ship – confirmed the imminent release.
“A decision has been reached to release the ship and all 36 members of the crew. It’s just a matter of getting through the final protocols and processes so that can happen,” TDI-Brooks’ director of operations Peter Tatro told Reuters.
According to an AG’s press release, in a preliminary hearing, Adres Bravo, the appointed prosecutor in the matter, “charged Bekirov for failing to meet the special regime of security zones as specified in the organic laws on Water Areas and National Security.”
The charge was read in the Fourth Crime Court in Nueva Esparta State, Northeast Venezuela, which released Bekirov pending a trial, and banned him from conducting further oil exploration and research activities in Venezuela’s territory. Bekirov will be required to appear in court for pending proceedings and will be summoned for such through Guyana’s Em-bassy in Caracas.
Last Thursday, RV Teknik Perdana, contracted by Andarko Pertroleum to carry out seismic surveys in Guyana’s EEZ, was in-tercepted by the Yakuana, Venezuelan Naval vessel, which ordered and escorted it to the Venezuelan island of Margarita.
The Government of Guyana condemned the incident which it maintains happened in Guyana’s EEZ. Following the incident, the Venezuelan government also expressed “its strongest protest” to “the situation that arose with respect to the activities of scientific prospecting and exploration of the continental shelf and the seabed Venezuelan, performed by the vessel,” and requested an explanation from Guyana, which gave permission for the survey.
Attempts were made yesterday to determine the names of the diplomats who will represent Guyana tomorrow but calls to Rodrigues-Birkett as well as Director General Elisabeth Harper went unanswered. The stakes are high for Guyana as there could be an attempt by Caracas to use this incident as a means of leverage on the larger border controversy between the two countries. Observers say that Georgetown needs its most experienced diplomats and negotiators on board.
Guyana is also in a delicate position as it is currently receiving all of its oil supplies from Caracas on concessionary terms. Venezuela is also taking the lion’s share of Guyana’s rice in an oil barter arrangement and just recently supplied fertilizer.
Meanwhile, El Universal online yesterday reported that a Trinidadian fishing vessel was yesterday intercepted and escorted to Venezuela for allegedly operating in Venezuela’s EEZ El Universal online yesterday reported General Vladimir Padrino López, Chief of Strategic Operational Command of the National Armed Forces, as posting on Twitter, “Sovereignty shall be respected. A Trinidadian vessel was intercepted carrying out fishing operations in the Exclusive Economic Zone without permission”.
No information was provided on the crew aboard the Trinidadian vessel, but Lopez reportedly shared that the vessel was escorted to a dock located in the city of Carúpano, Sucre State, Northeast Venezuela.