Venezuela confronts Exxon oil exploration ship in disputed Guyanese waters

The Venezuelan navy on Saturday intercepted a ship searching for oil for Exxon Mobil in Guyanese waters, the Guyanese foreign ministry said in a statement.

"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 statement, which was released on Saturday, reads.

The foreign ministry also pledged to bring "this latest act of illegality and blatant disrespect for Guyana’s sovereignty by Venezuela to the attention of the United Nations." 

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Venezuela maintains that the area where its navy confronted the ship is Venezuelan territory.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in statement to Reuters that its navy confronted two boats it said were hired by Exxon in an area that was “undoubtedly Venezuelan sovereignty” and “proceeded to apply the appropriate international protocols.”

The disagreement over who controls the area is part of a century-old border dispute, according to Reuters.

The State Department blamed Venezuela for the incident.

"The Venezuelan Navy aggressively stopped ExxonMob‎il contracted vessels operating under an oil exploration agreement with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana in its Exclusive Economic Zone," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement

"We underscore that Guyana has the sovereign right to explore and exploit resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone," Palladino continued. "We call on Venezuela to respect international law and the rights of its neighbors."

The vessel, owned by Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS), that was conducting the exploration on behalf of Exxon stopped searching and moved east after it was confronted by the Venezuelan navy, PGS spokesman Bard Stenberg told Reuters in a statement.

An Exxon spokeswoman said the company's oil explorations in the region “have been paused until they can be safely continued."