Twelve Guyanese fishermen detained in Venezuela for the last five days have appeared in court, even as the Venezuelan Foreign Minister undertook to pursue their release.
Prem Kumar Lallbachan, the owner of the Lady Nayera, one of the two boats intercepted by a Venezuelan naval vessel on January 21, said he had made contact with the crew.
His update came Monday, the same day he and Trevor Daniels, the owner of the other boat, Sea Wolf, met with Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Todd.
Todd also had a virtual meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza, to discuss modalities for the release of the crew members.
In a brief statement following the foreign ministers’ meeting which was described as “cordial”, the Guyana government said Arreaza assured that the crew members were being treated with the utmost respect for their human rights.
“At the request of Foreign Minister Todd, Minister Arreaza undertook to pursue their early release,” the statement said.
During the meeting with Lallbachan and Daniels, Minister Todd conveyed the government’s commitment to securing the release of the crew and vessels.
“We are doing all within our power to reunite the crew members with their families and help you to continue with your business,” he sought to assure them.
Speaking to the local media, Lallbachan said while the Guyanese seamen have not yet been charged, the court in Venezuela had given authorities 45 days to investigate the matter.
While that investigation is underway, he added, the men were expected to stay on their boats moored at Port Guiria in Venezuela.
The two fishing vessels, according to the Guyana government, were off the coast of Waini Point, well within Guyana’s territory, when they were intercepted, and the captains instructed to sail to Port Guiria.
A statement from Venezuela’s Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Relations, however, claimed the vessels were engaged in illegal fishing in Venezuelan waters.
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reiterates that it will not allow illegal incursions of any kind into its territory and that it will exercise, as it has always done, the sacred right to the defence of their sovereignty,” the statement read.
The two countries remain locked in a decades-old border dispute that is now before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for settlement.
However, Venezuela has insisted the ICJ has no jurisdiction in the matter.
A case management meeting had been set for Monday, but it was deferred a second time, on Venezuela’s request, to February 26.