US monitoring reports of Exxon vessel interception
– as State Dept urges Venezuela to respect Guyana’s sovereignty – backs Guyana’s right to retrieve its resources in economic zone – Venezuela wants direct talks with Guyana after incident
By Jarryl Bryan
Both the United States (US) and the Venezuelan governments have spoken out about Saturday’s incident in which the Venezuelan Navy forced an ExxonMobil research vessel to cease conducting its work in Guyana’s Stabroek block, leading to suspension of seismic data collection.
In a message on the US State Department’s social media page, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino revealed that the US Government is monitoring the reports of the Venezuelan Navy’s actions against vessels operating on behalf of ExxonMobil, a multi-billion-dollar US company.
A statement has also been issued by the U.S. Department, which is headed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging Venezuela to respect the rights of its neighbours and to adhere to international law.
“On December 22, the Venezuelan Navy aggressively stopped ExxonMob?il contracted vessels operating under an oil exploration agreement with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana in its Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We underscore that Guyana has the sovereign right to explore and exploit resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone. We call on Venezuela to respect international law and the rights of its neighbours”, that statement declared.
The Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry has since released a communiqué from its Minister, Jorge Arreaza, in which Venezuela said the research vessel was found by its navy during regular patrols.
“It is important to note that in the exchange of communication with the captains of the exploration vessels, they claimed to have a permit from the government of the Guyana,” the communiqué states.
According to the Ministry, the navy “proceeded to apply the appropriate international protocols.” Referring to the “sensitive” nature of the incident, the Venezuelan Government called for renewed talks with Guyana.
“Based on the Bolivarian diplomacy of peace, (we reiterate) to Guyana’s cooperative republic the call to reestablish direct and respectful dialogue on this sensitive matter, while at the same time guaranteeing its firm determination to defend the territorial sovereignty of the republic and the interests of the Venezuelan people,” the communiqué added.
In a broadcast on Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge condemned the actions of the Venezuelan Navy, which he noted were both illegal and aggressive, their having occurred in the Exclusive E
conomic Zone and Continental Shelf of Guyana.
According to Minister Greenidge, it was reported by Exxon that the Venezuelans intercepted the vessel, the Ramform Tethys, at approximately 10:30 on Saturday morning at a position of N 09 deg 17.19 min / W 058 deg 16.20 min at an approximate distance of 140 km from the nearest point to the provisional equidistant line with Venezuela. Greenidge noted that the vessel had a crew of 70, including the captain, on board.
“The Government of Guyana rejects this illegal, aggressive and hostile act perpetrated by the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which once again demonstrates the real threat to Guyana’s economic development by its western neighbour; an act that violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country.
“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,” Greenidge said. “It is also in the process of informing the several Governments of the seventy crew members of the threat to their safety.”
According to Greenidge, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would also receive formal communication from the Government of Guyana on this matter.
Meanwhile Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo noted that the Opposition gives its full support to the Government on any matter relating to infringement of Guyana’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.
Exxon’s Senior Director of Public and Government Affairs, Diedre Moe, on Saturday revealed in a statement that in the wake of the incident, the oil company has decided to suspend its seismic operations in the Stabroek block.
“3-D seismic data acquisition of the western portion of the Stabroek Block began this month,” she explained. “At this time, seismic operations on the Stabroek Block offshore Guyana have been paused until they can be safely continued.”
According to Moe, the oil company’s main concern is for the safety of the Ramform Tethys crew members and others who may be in the area. She noted, however, that ExxonMobil is in communication with the necessary authorities.
This incident comes at a time when Guyana has an ongoing case with Venezuela in regard to territorial integrity. Guyana has, since last month, submitted its memorial on Jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and a date has been set for the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuelan to submit its own counter memorial.
Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge made this disclosure only a few weeks ago during his contribution to the budget debates. According to the Minister, April 18, 2019 has been set for Venezuela to submit its counter memorial.
Coincident with US oil giant ExxonMobil announcing the first of multiple oil finds in local waters in 2015, Venezuela renewed its claim to two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. Venezuela has been against Guyana exploring for oil in its Stabroek Block, where multiple oil deposits have been found by ExxonMobil, and has since renewed its claims to Guyana’s Essequibo region.
On January 30, 2018, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres concluded that the Good Offices Process under which the parties had engaged for almost 30 years had failed to achieve a solution to the controversy. He therefore chose the ICJ as the next means of settlement for the border controversy. This is a solution for which Guyana has long been advocating.
Sir Shridath Ramphal and Ambassador Audrey Waddell are assisting Minister Greenidge in this regard; and the United States has since announced that it supports Guyana’s case.