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Exxon quiet on plans to resume Guyana marine survey after Venezuela dispute



CARACAS (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil and a seismic research company it hired to search for oil off the coast of Guyana declined on Monday to say when they might resume exploration work halted after a weekend confrontation with Venezuela’s navy.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan soldiers are seen onboard a ship during the Zamora 200 military exercise in La Guaira, Venezuela January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

The foreign ministries of both neighboring South American countries said the incident had occurred within their territorial waters. A century-long border dispute has heated up in recent years as Irving, Texas-based Exxon (XOM.N) has discovered more than 5 billion barrels of oil and gas off Guyana’s shores.

Two ships owned by Norway’s Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS.OL) halted seismic survey activities after a confrontation Saturday with a Venezuelan navy vessel. The navy did not board the ships and none of the 70 crew members were injured, officials said.

Exxon declined on Monday to say when the survey would restart, referring questions to PGS. Bard Stenberg, a PGS senior vice president, declined to comment on any resumption of the work or if the company has sought to have Guyana provide protection for its vessels in the future.

There were two PGS ships involved in the confrontation, the Ramform Tethys and Delta Monarch, Stenberg said on Monday.

“A couple hours later we learned that the Venezuelan navy had withdrawn from the area,” he added.

Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Critics of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro say he has rekindled tensions with its eastern neighbor over the Essequibo region, a sparsely populated area making up two-thirds of Guyana’s territory that is also claimed by Venezuela, to distract from a severe economic crisis in the OPEC-member nation.

Venezuela is home to the world’s largest crude reserves, but production is hovering near its lowest levels in 70 years due to underinvestment, hyperinflation, and mismanagement under military control of the company.

Saturday’s confrontation recalled an October 2013 incident when Venezuela’s navy seized a ship carrying out a seabed survey for Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) in Guyana, accusing it of violating its maritime territory. Venezuela freed the vessel a week later.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas; editing by Gary McWilliams and Tom Brown