Guyana investigating reports of third vessel seized by Venezuela

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Amidst efforts being employed by the Guyana Government to have two fishing vessels and 12 crew members detained last week by the Venezuelan Navy released, there are report of a third vessel being seized by the neighbouring authorities.

Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Hugh Todd has since explained that Government is still trying to confirm the veracity of this latest report.

“We were made to understand that a third vessel was apprehended, and I’m yet to receive additional details. When we get that, we’ll put a statement out,” the Minister told reporters on Thursday on the sidelines of the National Assembly sitting.

He subsequently told INews on Thursday evening that he is awaiting information from Guyana’s Embassy in Caracas, expected sometime today.

It has been reported that another Guyana-registered fishing vessel, ‘Miss Annie’ – GR972360 – and its seven-member crew were detained by the Venezuelan military on Monday.

River patrols attached to the Venezuelan National Armed Guards (FANB) reportedly seized the vessel and detained the crew members, who were intercepted in Mariusa, Tucupita, Delta Amacuro, Venezuela.

This comes just days after two other Guyanese fishing vessels – the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – operating off the coast of Waini Point, within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – were intercepted on January 21 by the Venezuelan Navy, which detained the crew members and seized the vessels.

The vessel Lady Nayera is captained by Richard Ramnarine and comprises crew members Ramlakan Kamal, Nick Raghubar, Javin Boston, Michael Domingo and Joel Joseph. The other ship, the Sea Wolf, is captained by Toney Garraway and comprises crew members Errol Gardener, Orland Roberts, Christopher Shaw, Shirvin Oneil and Randy Henry.

Venezuela is claiming that, in both instances, the fishermen were in its waters. In fact, Venezuela’s Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Relations, Jorge Arreaza, during a virtual meeting with Minister Todd on Monday, provided location coordinates to show that the vessels were engaged in illegal fishing in Venezuela’s jurisdictional waters.

Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister has, however, contended on Thursday that this is not so. He explained that the coordinates of the location the two fishing vessels were when they were detained are within Guyana’s EEZ.

“What is important is that the position is well within our Exclusive Economic Zone, and that is what is important. [It’s] not the exact position, but the general location is inside of our EEZ,” Todd told reporters.

Meanwhile, the 12 fishermen were detained last week after they were allegedly caught with hammerhead sharks – a species that is protected by Venezuelan laws from being trawled. Minister Todd disclosed that this was indicated to him by his Venezuelan counterpart during their virtual engagement earlier in the week.

“When I spoke with the Foreign Affairs Minister [of Venezuela], he did mention that; but we have not heard anything from the crew with regards to that,” Todd has stated.

According to the Minister, while Guyanese authorities have been in daily contact with the detained fishermen, the fishermen were never questioned on this matter. He pointed out that this is not their focus at this point in time.

“We’re dealing with the release of the crew and the vessels; we are not dealing with the catch… At the end of the day, the vessels were apprehended in our territory. That is a matter for us by law, not the Venezuelans. So, we don’t want to be distracted. Let’s stay focused. We need to have the vessels and crews released as soon as possible. Forget about the catch for now, we can deal with that subsequently,” Minister Todd posited.

While the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister has assured that the crew members were being treated with utmost respect for their human rights, and while he undertook to pursue their early release, the fishermen have since been brought before a Venezuelan court, and according to further reports coming out of Caracas, the men could be detained for some 45 days more, pending investigations being conducted in the Spanish-speaking nation.

However, during Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly, when he updated the House on the situation, Minister Todd reiterated calls for the Nicolas Maduro regime to release the Guyanese fishermen and the vessels.

“Guyana has strongly condemned the illegal detention of its citizens and the illegal seizure of their fishing vessels by the Venezuelan Navy. As I speak, my Ministry continues to engage the international community to resolve this issue in the most peaceful and diplomatic manner,” he informed the House.

Moreover, the Foreign Affairs Minister said Guyana is heartened and encouraged by the support of the international community, which is echoing calls for the release of the Guyanese nationals and their fishing vessels, as well as for Venezuela to desist from actions that violate international law and threaten the peace and stability of the region.
In fact, among those that have come out in support of Guyana is the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a body as well as individual member states, who have denounced the action taken by Venezuela and called upon that country to release the Guyanese crew and vessels.

“The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) expresses grave concern at the escalation of tensions between Guyana and Venezuela, caused by the interception and detention in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone of two Guyanese fishing vessels by a Venezuelan naval vessel on January 21, 2021… CARICOM urges the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana, and to desist from aggressive acts that will seriously undermine the peace and security not only of Guyana and Venezuela, but the entire Caribbean region,” the regional body said in a missive on Wednesday.

In a response on Thursday, however, Venezuela has said the CARICOM statement “not only contributes to an ominous hostility climate, but also supports the interests of U.S. transactional corporations that seek to take control of an undemarcated territory based on an undesirable conflict in the region.”