Diplomatic Tensions Rise After Venezuela Detains Guyanese Vessels

Caracas and Georgetown have an ongoing territorial dispute over the Essequibo region.


Mérida, January 27, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan Ministry has rejected “false accusations” of the government of Guyana after two fishing ships were detained.

The vessels “Lady Nayera” and “Sea Wolf” were intercepted by the Venezuelan navy on Thursday and taken to the port city of Guiria where the crew and ships were detained under the charge of fishing illegally in Venezuelan waters.

The Guyanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the detention with a press release on Saturday calling it an “act of aggression” and demanding the immediate release of the crew and vessels. Georgetown in turn claimed the fishermen were in Guyana’s waters. The two countries are involved in an ongoing diplomatic dispute over the Essequibo strip.

“ The government of Guyana exhorts the government of Venezuela and its agents to behave in a manner consistent with international law and good neighbourly relations,” the statement read.

In response, Venezuela published a communiqué establishing that the operation was conducted in an area of “indisputable Venezuelan sovereignty” and that the detained crew would be subjected to due process in line with current legislation.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela rejects and denounces the false accusations expressed by the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, while ratifying its offer of sincere dialogue, without hidden agendas,” the statement read.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza handed a note of protest to Guyana’s charge d’affaires in Caracas and held a video-conference with his Guyanese counterpart Hugh Todd on Monday. Arreaza allegedly exposed the geographic coordinates that prove the vessels’ incursion into Venezuelan waters.

After the virtual meeting, Caracas reiterated its call for “sincere dialogue” and to maintain diplomatic relations based on respect and cooperation.

According to the owner of the “Sea Wolf,” Kumar Lalbachan, the 12 men crew of both ships faces up to 45 days of pre-trial detention pending investigation, although Arreaza pledged to work on their early release.

The diplomatic dispute between both nations over the Essequibo strip has flared up after the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling declaring it has jurisdiction to hear a claim brought forward by the Georgetowon government over the demarcation of their land border.

The ICJ case management hearings on the matter are set to take place on February 26, following a petition from the Venezuelan authorities to postpone the hearing. The Maduro government has rejected the ICJ’s jurisdiction on the case and called on the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to mediate.

Caracas has taken action to defend its claim over the disputed region as Venezuelan, with Maduro approving a decree to establish a “Strategic Development Area for the Atlantic Front” with the intention of “protecting and safeguarding [Venezuela’s] territorial jurisdiction.” Guyanese President Irfaan Ali rejected the decree as “deeply disturbing”.

The Essequibo diplomatic quarrel has also been a priority for Venezuela’s newly-seated National Assembly (AN), which installed a special commission dedicated to the issue. Deputy Hermann Escarra, who leads the group, assured in a press conference on Monday that “Venezuela is not willing to lose one more millimeter of its territory.”

The longstanding border controversy between Venezuela and Guyana reached new heights after Georgetown greenlighted ExxonMobil’s plan to exploit an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil in the Essequibo’s territorial waters.

The Venezuelan government has recurrently claimed that the granting of oil exploration contracts violates the Geneva Agreement signed by all parties in 1966 and reiterated that this is the only legal instrument to settle the territorial dispute.

In turn, Guyana’s claim is based on a controversial 1899 arbitration agreement in which no Venezuelan negotiators were present. For its part, Washington has backed Venezuela’s eastern neighbor, signing a military cooperation agreement and performing joint military drills.

Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.