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By Svetlana Marshall
The Venezuelan Naval Vessel that escorted the 12 Guyanese fishermen out of Venezuela not enter Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ), Guyana Defence Force Colonel Julius Skeete told reporters on the sideline of the Force’s Annual Officers’ Conference at the National Cultural Centre on Thursday.
After nine (9) days of being illegally detained in Venezuela, the fishermen and their vessels – Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – were given the green light by the Venezuelan Government to leave the Spanish speaking territory on February 3. Notably, fishermen were escorted out of the country by a Venezuelan Naval Vessel.
“Interestingly enough, what we took note of, when the vessels returned, the escort, because they were escorted by a Venezuelan Naval Vessel, they stopped at the line, that we are saying is the demarcation of our western extreme of the Exclusive Economic Zone,” Colonel Skeete told reporters.
The fishermen were fishing off of the coast off Waini Point within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone on January 21, 2021 when they were illegally intercepted and detained by the Venezuelan Naval Vessel Commandante Hugo Chavez GC. The crews and the fishing vessels were escorted to Port Guiria in Venezuela, where they were held up until their release.
When asked whether there was still a Venezuelan military presence within Guyana’s territorial sea and EEZ, Colonel said activities there have toned down.
“Since the return of the vessels and indeed late January, we have not seen that level of activity,” the GDF Colonel would only say.
In his address to the officers, President Irfaan Ali assured the Defence Force that it will be better equipped going forward to respond to both internal and external threats.
“The Defence Force will be strengthened to better execute its mandate. The force will continue to be recapitalized, and will benefit from the acquisition of equipment, aircraft and marine vessels, which will allow it to exercise improve surveillance over Guyana’s territory- its land, territorial sea and its Exclusive Economic Zone,” President Ali said.
However, he said a stronger force does not necessarily mean a larger force.
“We are building a stronger defence force with emphasis on increased use of technology and intelligence, so that we can know what is occurring on our borders, and within our territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone,” President Ali said as he unscored the importance of strengthening the institutional capacity of the Force. A well-equipped Force, the Head of State said, will allow it to respond adequately to threats to the country’s territory and people including responses to emergencies and national disasters.
The Commander-in-Chief said while the Defence Policy will be guided by the country’s desire for peace and the protection of its national patrimony, it will not give into intimidation.
The country’s Chief-of-Staff, Brigadier Godfrey Bess, in his address, also indicated that there will be an increased military presence within Guyana’s territorial sea and EEZ.
“The operational posture for 2021 will reflect an upsurge in the number of patrols and surveillances so that we can dominate more of our land, air and sea spaces, in particular our Exclusive Economic Zone, the rugged terrain of our hinterlands and our porous borders,” the Chief-of-Staff said.
He said in keeping with President Ali’s desire to improve the Defence and Security Architecture, the Force will enhancing its air fleet to keep a bird eye view on the country’s territory. Already, the Force has acquired a new 412 EPI helicopter, and is currently in the process of rehabilitating the Beechcraft King Air 350. The Chief-of-Staff disclosed that the Cessna 441 will be rehabilitated before the end of 2021, while the Cessna 171 aircraft, which was one of two aircraft discovered on an illegal airstrip in Mazaruni, Region Seven last September, has been declared state asset and has been handed over to the GDF. “Adequate officers and ranks are presently undergoing training as pilots and engineers for the 412, and the Beech Craft,” Brigadier Bess said while adding that “several protocols are being studied to ensure that suitable vessels are sourced to complement the sea assets to adequately dominate out EEZ.”
The Chief-of-Staff said the Force in reorganizing and retooling itself has taken into consideration the both the internal and external threats that exist. He posited that the external threats have taken on what could be described as worrisome proportions particularly in the country’s EEZ.