Venezuelan navy cuts off ExxonMobil vessels over Guyana border dispute

Venezuela’s navy over the weekend intercepted two research vessels operating in Guyanese waters for ExxonMobil, claiming the vessels were operating within Venezuelan territory. 

Ramform Tethys
Ramform Tethys. Source: PGS

According to a Saturday statement by Guyana’s foreign ministry, ExxonMobil reported that a research vessel, the Ramform Tethys, was intercepted by the Venezuelan navy at 10.30 hours on Saturday, December 22, 2018. The vessel is owned by Norwegian seismic services provider PGS.

The ministry said that the vessel was contracted to conduct seismic work for ExxonMobil and had a total of seventy crew members on board including the captain. It was intercepted in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana 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, the ministry said.

Commenting on the incident, the ministry said: “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 neighbor; 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. It is also in the process of informing the several Governments of the seventy crew members of the threat to their safety.”

In a statement on Sunday, December 23 the U.S. Department of State confirmed that on December 22 “the Venezuelan Navy aggressively stopped contracted vessels operating under an oil exploration agreement Cooperative Republic of Guyana in its Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Robert Palladino, a deputy spokesperson at the department, said: “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 neighbors.”


Exxon activities paused


A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil told Reuters that the company’s seismic explorations in the western portion of Guyana’s Stabroek Block “have been paused until they can be safely continued,” and that the vessel was operating in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone.

In a statement on Sunday, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said that its navy during the daily patrolling activities detected an “unprecedented presence in Venezuelan jurisdictional waters of two seismic exploration vessels.” The vessel were identified as Ramform Tethys and Delta Monarch. The ministry said that the vessels were located “within the Orinoco River Delta maritime waters, over which Venezuela undoubtedly has unquestionable sovereignty.”

Venezuelan ministry claimed that Guyana has no jurisdiction over the maritime area of the Orinoco River Delta citing that as the reason for stopping Guyana’s activities.

The ministry also said: “The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has informed the Secretary General of the United Nations about this development and has sent the corresponding diplomatic note of protest to the government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana with regard to this unacceptable violation of the national sovereignty of Venezuela which, beyond the territorial controversy over Guayana Esequiba, has trespassed all limits with this unprecedented incursion as it was intended to dispose of maritime spaces of Delta Amacuro, over which Venezuela has undisputed sovereignty.”

In an email to Offshore Energy Today, a spokesperson for PGS said: “We were operating in Guyana under the authority of the Guyanese government and have all necessary permits to acquire seismic data.”

The spokesperson added: “The vessel stopped seismic acquisition and headed East after it was approached by the Venezuelan navy. During the incident the safety and well-being of the crew onboard the vessel was our first priority. Later on Saturday we learned that the Venezuelan navy had withdrawn from the area where the Ramform Tethys was. The vessel and the crew is safe, and currently located offshore Guyana.”

When it comes to ExxonMobil’s recent activities offshore Guyana, the oil major in early December made its tenth discovery offshore Guyana and increased its estimate of the discovered recoverable resource for the Stabroek Block to more than 5 billion oil-equivalent barrels. The resource estimate, up from the previous estimate of more than 4 billion oil-equivalent barrels, was a result of further evaluation of previous discoveries and includes a new discovery at the Pluma-1 well.

Offshore Energy Today Staff