Guyana has purchased an offshore military patrol vessel for €39.5 million from French shipbuilder OCEA, the Guyana Ministry of Finance announced on Wednesday (April 10). This acquisition triggered a sharp reaction from Venezuela, which claims the oil-rich Essequibo region, under Guyanese administration.

The vessel will be used to protect the exclusive economic zone (maritime space between territorial waters and international waters over which a coastal State has exclusive rights to exploit resources), to fight against illegal fishing and trafficking, as well as to discover possible pollution, according to a military official contacted by Agence France-Presse. “The price of the vessel includes the cost of the vessel and its equipment as well as integrated logistical support services, including training, for a period of five years,” the Government of Guyana also clarified.

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné met Guyanese President Irfaan Ali during a brief visit to Guyana at the end of March. The two men had notably discussed the question of this boat.

Never “use force”

“False victim Guyana is buying an ocean patrol boat from a French company,” responded Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez on X. “Guyana, the United States, its Western partners and its former colonial master [Great Britain] Brittany] constitute a threat to peace in our region. Venezuela will remain vigilant,” she added.

The long-standing territorial dispute between Caracas and Georgetown over the Essequibo was reactivated following the launch, in September 2023, of oil tenders by Guyana, then the referendum organized in response, in December, in Venezuela on a attachment of Essequibo. Venezuela argues that the Essequibo River should be the natural border, as it was in 1777, during the time of the Spanish Empire. Caracas believes that the Geneva agreement signed in 1966 – a few months before Guyana’s independence – lays the foundations for a negotiated settlement. Guyana believes that the border between the two countries dates from the English colonial era and that it was ratified in 1899 by an arbitration court in Paris. It is this border that is in force.

Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro signed into law a law designating Essequibo as a new Venezuelan state, while denouncing the installation of “secret military bases” by the United States. Georgetown believes that this law is “a blatant violation of the most fundamental principles of international law.”

In December, the two presidents met, agreeing never to “use force”; however, the two countries continue their battle of declarations.

A 160,000 square kilometer territory rich in oil and natural resources, Essequibo has some 125,000 inhabitants, a fifth of Guyana’s population, and represents two-thirds of the country’s surface area.