CARACAS, Venezuela — A U.S.-chartered oil exploration ship seized by the Venezuelan navy in Caribbean waters disputed with neighboring Guyana arrived at Venezuela’s Margarita Island on Sunday.
Venezuelan authorities said the ship’s 36 crew members, including five U.S. citizens and two Brazilians, would be held on board while an investigation continued.
The 285-foot survey ship Teknik Perdana was detained by Venezuelan sailors Thursday in contested waters off the coast of Guyana. The seizure is threatening to revive a decades-old territorial dispute between Venezuela, South America’s biggest oil producer, and Guyana, one of the region’s poorest countries.
The vessel, sailing under a Panamanian flag, was conducting a seismic study for Woodlands-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. under a concession from Guyana. Guyana’s government says the crew was well within Guyana’s territorial waters. TDI-Brooks International, based in College Station, Texas, was contracted to do the acoustic survey of the ocean floor.
Pete Tatro, director of operations for TDI-Brooks, said Sunday that the ship and its crew arrived safely. He said several of those on board are from College Station.
“Based on the latest information we’ve received, the crew of the MV Teknik Perdana is safe, and our sole focus remains on their safety and safe passage to their respective homes,” he said. “We continue to cooperate with the government of Guyana and other relevant authorities to resolve this situation in a safe and expedient manner.”
Venezuelan Adm. Angel Belisario Martinez told local station Union Radio that the research ship was conducting “unauthorized scientific work” in Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone. He said the case had been turned over to prosecutors.
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry had said Friday that the ship and its crew would be subject to an “inquiry under the International Maritime Law and pursuant to the safeguarding of our sovereignty in maritime areas.”
Gregory Adams, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, told The Associated Press that the embassy had not been given any official information on the five detained U.S. citizens.
The ship’s crew also includes two Britons, two Russians, a Frenchman, five Ukrainians, two Brazilians, five Malaysians and 14 Indonesians.
Guyana’s government on Saturday requested a meeting with Venezuelan officials next week to discuss the seizure, which its Foreign Ministry earlier called an “unprecedented” act in Guyana-Venezuela relations.
Venezuela has for decades claimed two-thirds of Guyana’s territory as its own, arguing that the gold-rich region west of the Essequibo River was stolen from it by an 1899 agreement with Britain and its then colony. The area is a fixture of 19th century maps of Gran Colombia, the short-lived republic revered by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
Ties between the two countries had improved recently. Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, made his first visit as president to Georgetown in August to discuss joint oil projects with his Guyanese counterpart, Donald
Ramotar. During the visit, Maduro described the dispute as a relic of the colonial era and vowed to peacefully resolve the issue.
Houston Chronicle staff contributed to this report.