Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has demanded that Guyana respect its sovereignty after two ships of the transnational company ExxonMobil were repelled Saturday from what the Bolivarian Navy deemed to be their country's waters. But both the governments of the United States and of Guyana claim it was Venezuela who was in breach of international law.
The US Government has urged Venezuela to respect international law and the sovereignty of its neighbours in the wake of the interception of research vessel the Ramform Tethys by the Venezuelan navy in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
US Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said his Government is closely monitoring the situation.
“We are monitoring reports that the Venezuelan Navy may have interfered with vessels operating on behalf of ExxonMobil. We underscore that Guyana has the sovereign right to explore and exploit resources in its territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone,” Palladino said.
Guyana's Foreign Minister Carl Barrington Greenidge had described Venezuela's maneuver as an illegal, aggressive and hostile act.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be bringing this latest act of illegality and blatant disrespect for Guyana’s sovereignty by Venezuela to the attention of the United Nations. It is also in the process of informing the several governments of the 70 crew members of the threat to their safety. The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will also receive formal communication from the Government of Guyana on this matter,” Greenidge said in a televised statement.
Arreaza maintained his country had acted in accordance with international law regarding these cases.
In the face of the flagrant violation of our sovereignty by oil exploration vessels contracted by Guyana, the Bolivarian Navy proceeded to apply the corresponding protocols with strict rigour and adherence to international agreements and treaties, wrote Arreaza on Twitter.
The presence of the two foreign ships had at no time been reported, Venezuelan authorities insisted. Hence, the government of Venezuela urged Guyana to re-establish direct and respectful dialogue on this sensitive matter.
For its part, the Venezuelan Navy claimed that one of its ships, the oceanic patrol boat Kariña PO-14, had detected illegal exploration activities, due to which she acted in compliance with international conventions.
Venezuelan sources speak of two allegedly intruding ships, adding the Trinidad and Tobago-flagged Delta Monarch to their reports, while only one vessel is mentioned on the other end of the story.
At around 10:30hrs on Saturday, the Ramform Tethys, flagged by the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, was conducting seismic surveys on behalf of ExxonMobil in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, when it was intercepted by Venezuela’s Navy. At the time, a total of 70 crew members were on board, including the captain.
”In the exchange of communication with the captains of the exploration vessels, they claimed to have a permit from the government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to operate in said maritime space. We proceeded to inform them that said country does not have jurisdiction in the maritime projection of the Orinoco Delta, as a result of which they (...) sailed towards waters of the extensive area, claiming that claiming it was a projection of the Esequiba coast,” read a statement from the Venezuelan government.
ExxonMobil is awaiting a response from the Venezuelan Government before it allows the seismic survey to continue. The survey was halted Saturday following the incident and the vessel left the area, according to the Norwegian company Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS). Venezuela's PO-14 has reportedly vacated the area as well.
After the incident, Greenidge is said to have met with several members of the diplomatic community in Georgetown, including the US Chargé d’Affaires Terry Steers-Gonzalez; Deputy British High Commissioner to Guyana, Ray Davidson; and diplomats from the Russian Embassy to brief them on the situation.
The crew members hail from 18 countries with the majority from the Philippines. The Guyana Government is in the process of writing the respective Governments of the foreign nationals as well as the United Nations, it was reported.
In a statement on Saturday, Exxon said 3-D seismic data acquisition of the western portion of the Stabroek Block began earlier this month. PGS provides images and 3D data about the subsurface beneath the ocean floor. This assists oil companies in undertaking oil finds. Earlier this month, the American oil giant announced that it had made a 10th oil discovery offshore Guyana. Exxon said the resource estimate, up from the previous estimate of more than four billion oil-equivalent barrels, is a result of further evaluation of previous discoveries and includes a new discovery at the Pluma-1 well.
“The discovery of a resource base of more than five billion oil-equivalent barrels in less than four years is a testament of our technical expertise and rigorous evaluation and pursuit of high-potential, high-risk opportunities in this frontier area,” said Neil Chapman, ExxonMobil senior vice-president.
“We will continue to apply what we’ve learned to identify additional exploration prospects and potential future discoveries that will deliver significant value to the Guyanese people, our partners and shareholders,” he added.
The Pluma-1 well encountered approximately 121 feet (37 metres) of high-quality hydrocarbon-bearing sandstone reservoir. Pluma-1 reached a depth of 16,447 feet (5,013 metres) in 3,340 feet (1,018 metres) of water. The Noble Tom Madden drillship began drilling on November 1. The well is located approximately 17 miles (27 kilometres) south of the Turbot-1 well. The Noble Tom Madden will next drill the Tilapia-1 prospect located 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometres) west of the Longtail-1 well.
“Together with the government and people of Guyana, we are continuing to grow the value of the Stabroek Block for Guyana, our partners and ExxonMobil with successful exploration investments,” said Steve Greenlee, President of ExxonMobil Exploration Company.
Venezuela and Guyana maintain a long-time territorial dispute over Guayana Esequiba, a territory which was first included in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and the Captaincy General of Venezuela by Spain, but was later included in Essequibo by the Dutch and in British Guiana by the United Kingdom and has been bequeathed as such to the current Guyanese nation.