GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana's government said Friday that Venezuela's navy has detained a ship operated by a U.S. oil company in waters disputed by the neighboring South American countries.
The ship, which has five U.S. citizens on board, was conducting a seismic survey under contract for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. on Thursday when it was stopped by a Venezuelan navy vessel. It was ordered to sail under escort to Margarita Island in Venezuela, the Guyanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
"It was then clear that the vessel and its crew were not only being escorted out of Guyana's waters, but were under arrest," the ministry said. "These actions by the Venezuelan naval vessel are unprecedented in Guyana Venezuela relations."
Venezuela said it legitimately detained the vessel for operating without authorization in its waters. Its government said the ship, Teknik Perdana, was expected to arrive on Margarita Island on Saturday.
Guyana said the crew was well within its territorial waters but that the Venezuelan navy informed them that they were operating in that country's exclusive economic zone and ordered an immediate halt to the survey. The two countries have been disputing their land and ocean borders for decades.
The government of Guyana said it has expressed its "grave concerns" to Venezuela and requested the immediate release of the vessel and its crew.
"The actions taken by the Venezuelan navy vessel constitute a serious threat to the peace of this sub-region and the Government of Guyana therefore strongly condemns these actions," the Foreign Ministry said.
Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez said the country was obligated to act if a ship was in its maritime zone without authorization. "We will jealously defend our country and our sovereignty," he said when asked about the incident at a news conference in Caracas.