Venezuela/Guyana Maritime Border Dispute

File:Localizador Politico Venezuela.svg

Map of Venezuela and Guyana with the area of Guyana claimed by Venezuela shown in Gray. Venezuela’s waters and EEZ shown in darker blue. From Wikipedia, Source: Shadowxfox by Sparkve

BBC is reporting a US operated oil exploration vessel has been “detained” by Venezuela. Five Americans are reported among the crew.

The ship sails under a Panamanian flag and is owned by Singaporean marine surveying company.

“Our first concern is the safety of the crew of the MV Teknik Perdana research vessel, which was under contract to our company and conducting a seafloor survey on behalf of the government of Guyana,” said a spokesperson for Anadarko (based in Woodlands, TX–Chuck), Brian Cain.

“We are fully cooperating with the Government of Guyana, the US coast guard and embassy personnel in an effort to achieve the safe release of the crew and vessel,” Mr Cain added.

Venezuela and Guyana have a dispute with roots going back to the 17th century, over the Essequibo region that includes almost 60% of Guyana, 159,500 square km between the Cuyuni River to the west and the Essequibo River to the east.

Since the maritime boundaries are based on the land borders, the maritime borders are also in dispute. Tempers had been relatively cool over this dispute. This is probably just a “shot across the bow” by Venezuela, as a warning to its much weaker neighbor. Still, for Coast Guard units operating in the area, it might be worth keeping in mind.

Iranian Warships off the US Coast?

File:Iranian Alvand class frigat.JPEGThe Iranians have announced that they intend to send a naval task force to provide a “powerful” presence off the US coast. Iranian military pronouncements frequently seem to be meaningless chest pounding for domestic consumption, and in all probability the task force will consist of only one warship smaller than a 270, and a replenishment vessel, but there may be more to this than simple theatrics. Informationdissemination suggests that this may be a way of cirumventing the UN sanctions on Iran and that perhaps this is a way to allow technology transfer. Likely port calls are Cuba and Venezuela.

At the risk of appearing paranoid, I’ll try to think like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp commander in charge of these vessels. I want to embarrass, degrade, and covertly attack the Great Satan in any way I can, as long as I don’t get caught. I might also have a opportunity to make a personal fortune. Might this be an opportunity to pass weapons, like shoulder launched SAMs, to terrorists already in the US by making rendezvous off shore, or to simply put agents ashore. It might be an opportunity make a substantial profit by delivering weapons to a drug cartel, maybe even a small submarine. There is of course the opportunity for technology transfers in both direction when port calls are made.

In November 2010 a German newspaper carried a story that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela had reached an agreement to establish a ballistic missile base in Venezuela armed with Iranian built IRBMs capable of reaching the US. This has been discounted by the State Department, but the logic of such an arrangement would have to be attractive to leaders of both Iran and Venezuela as a way of insuring against a US strike against either regime.

Should someone assign a shadow to these vessels while they are off the US coasts?

As informationdissemination notes, the Chinese are also expected in Caribbean Waters in the form of a hospital ship. If other, potentially hostile, navies start acting like the US Navy, keeping warships off our coasts, as they may in the not too distant future, how might the Coast Guard be different?

Venezuela’s New Offshore Patrol Cutter

In 2005 Venezuela began a program to provide security for their Exclusive Economic Zone that they refer to as POVZEE (patrullero oceánico de vigilancia de la zona económica exclusiva). The program called for the construction of eight ships to perform what we recognize as Coast Guard functions. Four of the ships were intended to patrol the EEZ and four smaller ships were planned to patrol closer to shore.

Venezuela recently took possession of the first of four larger 99 meter Patrol ships (PC-21, 22, 23, 24) (Video here. It is almost 10 minutes, and the interview is in Spanish. It only provides a pier level, port quarter view and views of some sensors. A clearer port quarter view with the stern gate down is here along with a close up of the CIWS.) They have already received two of the four smaller 22 knot, 1,720 ton, 80 meter vessels (GC-21, 22, 23, 24) that lack hangers but are otherwise similar (pictures of these smaller ships are at the bottom of this page).

These larger ships look a lot like what we might expect the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) to look like.

  • Length: 98.9 meters (324.5 ft)
  • Displacement: 2,419 tons (full load)
  • Beam: 13.6 m (44.6 ft)
  • Draft: 3.8 m (12.5 ft)
  • Depth to main deck is 7.2 m (24 ft)
  • Accommodations for up to 92
  • Maximum speed: 25 knots
  • Endurance 3,500 nmi @ 18 knots (too low for our needs, but no one else builds conventionally powered ships with the endurance of Coast Guard cutters)
  • Combined diesel and diesel (CODAD) propulsion system using four MTU diesel engines rated at 4,440kW each for a total of 17,760kW (23,807 HP), twin Wärtsilä Propulsion controllable-pitch propellers
  • Two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB)
  • Flight deck and hanger.
  • Armament: OTO Melara 76mm, forward,  Oerlikon 35 mm “Millennium Gun” aft,  and 2x.50 cal.

Venezuela’s EEZ is only one 23rd that of the US. If the US had a program with a proportionate level of effort to protect its EEZ, the Coast Guard would have 184 large patrol cutters.

Considering their apparently close ties, it is somewhat surprising that the Venezuelans chose a Spanish shipyard and European weapons over the Russian alternatives. Spanish shipyards used to be very inefficient, frequently taking ten years to build a warship, but Navantia, where these ships are being built, appears to be quite competitive, building ships for Norway, Australia, and Thailand as well as the Spanish Navy. Perhaps the common language had an influence, or perhaps it is because the Venezuelans have seen Russian systems in action, that they decided to go European.

The choice of the 35 mm “Millennium Gun” is a bit surprising. The only other user is the Danish Navy. But looking a little closer, it is understandable and, if the USN also adopted it, it might be a good option for the Coast Guard as well. The mount weighs is only half that of the Phalanx. Whether it is as good an anti-missile weapon as the Phalanx is debatable, but it is almost certainly better as an anti-ship weapon (Lockheed Martin video of the gun here:

There is a stern gate that looks like it may be for launching a boat but I’ve seen nothing that states it’s purpose.

MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems)–Will We See These?

A recent post concerning the unexpected presence of high tech Russian made SA-24, man portable anti-aircraft missiles in no-fly zone over Libya had an interesting side note, “Venezuela, for example, is buying thousands of SA-24s, and international watchdog groups worry that they will end up in the hands of narco-traffickers and insurgent groups.”

Actually I’m a bit surprised we haven’t seen more instances of terrorist or criminal organizations using high tech weapons. Perhaps criminals recognize that this could provoke unwanted additional attention.

(Video of the weapon in operation here)

Trouble in Latin America

Because the Coast Guard regularly operates in the waters off Latin America, and flies patrols from bases there, we probably want to pay attention to what is happening in region.

Venezuela recently broke off diplomatic relations with Columbia, after Colombian accusations that Venezuela was sheltering FARC rebels.

There was already an uproar about the recent agreement between the US and Costa Rica allowing the US military limited access to Costa Rica to refuel ships and pursue drug traffickers. There was substantial opposition within Costa Rica and much speculation from the anti-American quarters that the US would use Costa Rica as an avenue to attack Nicaragua or Venezuela.

Before that, there were accusations that the US was behind the 2009 coup in Honduras that removed a pro-Venezuelan President.

We are seeing the solidification of anti-American feeling exemplified by the emergence of the “Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America” or ALBA, which began as an economic alliance between Cuba and Venezuela and now also includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Saint vincent and the Grenadines.

All the chest pounding and anger against the US and Colombia is probably more for domestic consumption than any indication of immediate intent, but we might see some of this hostility in port and sometime angry words are translated into action by young men, acting without their government’s blessing.  Our people are in a potentially dangerous region where not everyone sees us as the good guys.

As they say, “Be careful out there.”