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Tension mounts as Venezuela navy seizes Guyanese fishing boats

The Venezuelan navy seized two Guyanese fishing vessels on 21 January, exacerbating tensions over the two governments’ dispute over the Essequibo region.

The seizure appears to be the first Venezuelan military response to a violation of the ‘Atlantic Façade’ coastal territory that it claimed earlier that month. “That territory belongs to the Venezuelan men and women and we are going to reconquer it,” President Nicolás Maduro said on 7 January.

According to local media reports, the Venezuelan Guaicamacuto-class patrol vessel ANBV Comandante Eterno Hugo Chávez (GC-24) intercepted the Guyanese fishing vessels Lady Nayera and Sea Wolf and arrested their crews as they were fishing close to the coast at Waini Point, within what Guyana claims as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The 12 fishermen and the two vessels remained detained in Venezuela’s Güiria port “despite Guyana’s formal protest to the Venezuelan authorities through diplomatic channels”, Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali said during a 30 January speech.

Caracas argues that the ships were operating within its EEZ, not Guyana’s, and that the interception of the vessels “occurred in Venezuelan waters of indisputable sovereignty”.

Brigadier Godfrey Bess, Guyana Defence Force (GDF) chief of staff, said the “Venezuelan incursion into Guyana’s [EEZ] was first observed on 14 January,” according to a press release. He also noted Venezuelan ships cross into the EEZ “intermittently”, adding that GDF naval and aerial assets will monitor the maritime border.

The GDF, including its coastguard component, has limited naval assets. The coastguard’s flagship vessel is the River-class minesweeper GDFS Essequibo, supported by various small craft. In 2017 the country obtained Metal Shark 38 Defiant-class fast patrol craft, while China has also donated small patrol vessels.

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