Guyana's maritime security: A sea of troubles
by David A Granger
October 1, 2000
Guyana's military and diplomatic humiliation at sea by its continental neighbours - Suriname and Venezuela - was long in the making.
The advice of Carlos Andres Perez, former Venezuelan President (whose second term 1989-1993 was rattled by an attempted golpe de estado by Lt. Col Hugo Chavez) should be taken seriously because it helps to clarify Venezuela's strategic maritime ambitions. In an interview on Globovision television network, reported in the Daily Journal of Venezuela on 8th September (and cited by the Guyana Chronicle of 9th September), Perez said: "What we need to do is exchange land for ocean and that is the way negotiations were proceeding when I left office." Perez also said that 'Venezuela should pursue sovereignty of 1,000 km2 of the Atlantic Ocean now under Guyana's sovereignty that would give Venezuela greater ocean access.'
Year of reverses
Not only for Venezuela, but also for Suriname, the Atlantic Ocean is the big prize. Sixteen days of frenzied diplomacy by Guyana to persuade Suriname to reverse its eviction of a Canadian oil rig, drilling under licence from Guyana between the mouths of the Corentyne and Demerara rivers, ended in failure in Paramaribo on 18th June.
For Suriname, the humiliation of Guyana at sea on 3rd June 2000 represented sweet revenge for the humiliation which it suffered when its troops were expelled from the New River Triangle by the Guyana Defence Force on 19th August 1969. But, much more than mere revenge, it has been able to use the threat of force to exercise effective control over a significant expanse of Guyana's seaspace. Suriname's decision to deploy naval craft to evict the rig was almost certainly made on the basis of its knowledge that Guyana lacked the capacity to mount a maritime response to its action.
The next month, July, Caracas issued a terse response to the signing of an Agreement between the Government of Guyana and Beal Aerospace Corporation of the United States to establish a satellite launch facility in the Waini, part of Guyana's territory claimed by Venezuela. Venezuela declared simply but firmly that it would not allow the establishment of the satellite launch facility which could be used as a military base. Foreign Minister Jose Vincente Rangel followed this by announcing that Venezuela would begin granting oil concessions in Guyana's Essequibo region. To support these declarations of policy Venezuela only recently established a Coast Guard, in addition to its Navy. The Coast Guard will be based in the Orinoco and will be able to dominate the Orinoco delta and Guyana's coastal waters up to the Waini.
Law of the Sea
Six years ago, while speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority and the coming into being of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on 16th November 1994 in Kingston, Jamaica, President Cheddi Jagan had hailed the Convention as ... an example of how states, through international co-operation and negotiation, can arrive at compromise solutions which can eventually redound to the common and collective benefit of all mankind ... It is this compromise approach, this willingness to provide for an equitable regime - with particular emphasis on the needs of developing countries - which we in Guyana would like to see duplicated, in relation to other pressing transboundary problems.
President Jagan's words did not exaggerate the importance of the Convention to Guyana's sovereignty and security and the necessity to deal with this country's transboundary problems. In fact, only a week earlier on 10th November, the National Assembly had unanimously approved a resolution endorsing Guyana's ratification of the Convention and its deposition of the 60th Instrument of Ratification on 16th November 1993, enabling the Convention to enter into force a year later.
Negotiations on the comprehensive Convention had lasted from 1973 to 1982 and, from the start, Guyana struggled to ensure that its maritime rights would be respected. At that time, Guyana was still smarting from the threat of the decree of President Raul Leoni of Venezuela on 9th July 1968 (Decreto No 1152) annexing a 9-mile wide belt of seaspace along the Essequibo Coast and was anxious to use the emerging Law of the Sea to safeguard the sovereignty and the security of its seaspace from Venezuelan and Surinamese claims.
The threat to Guyana's seaspace came directly from its neighbours on the continent - Suriname and Venezuela. On the approach of Guyana's Independence, they both advanced claims and conducted actions calculated to interfere with Guyana's exercise of sovereignty and maintenance of security over its land and seaspace.
Suriname's claim to over 15,000 km2 of Guyana's land and a large part of its hydrospace had arisen originally out of informal and imprecise agreements between the Governors of the adjacent Dutch colonies of Berbice and Suriname. Both colonies had been captured by the British during the Napoleonic wars, and by the Convention of London (1814) and the Treaty of Paris (1815), Britain retained Berbice along with Demerara and Essequibo, but returned Suriname to the Netherlands. In 1841, a British boundary commission determined the Kutari River to be the true source of the Corentyne River which formed the boundary between the two territories. This was accepted by Britain, Brazil and the Netherlands and a tri-junction point was established where the three territories met, in 1936. No boundary agreement was ever made between Britain and the Netherlands. The first area of controversy arose in 1962, when, on the approach of Guyana's Independence, the Netherlands proposed, for the first time, that the New River - a tributary of the Corentyne River lying several kilometres to the West - should be used as the boundary. This would have had the effect of transferring a large "triangle of land" to the Dutch colony. This proposal was never accepted by the British and, thereafter, remained the basis of the territorial claim against Guyana.
The second area of controversy was in the lower Corentyne. With reports of the discovery of petroleum close to the mouth of that river, the Netherlands tried to seek acceptance of the Western (i.e., Guyana) bank, rather than the thalweg, as the territorial boundary. Based on such a claim, a line was drawn seawards from a point on the Corentyne's Western bank, inclined to the west across the Ocean. Guyana was prepared to accept the Corentyne as the boundary but drew a line inclined eastwards. This boundary has never been agreed.
This gave rise to a third area of controversy. Between the two lines, there is a "triangle of sea" claimed by both States. No resort was made to the mechanisms for the settlement of disputes under Part XV of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea except insofar as some negotiation under Article 2 (3) of the United Nations Charter started slowly several years ago.
In the absence of agreement, Surinamese troops moved into the "triangle of land" in the upper Corentyne and were expelled by Guyanese troops on 19th August 1969, after a brief military encounter. Through the good offices of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, negotiations were started between Guyana and Suriname in April 1970. These was followed two months later by a Joint Declaration which, inter alia, established the Suriname-Guyana Commission, facilitated the opening of a Suriname Consulate- General in Georgetown, and provided for the de-militarisation of the Upper Corentyne.
After Suriname became independent of the Netherlands in 1975, its armed patrol boats frequently harassed Guyanese fishermen in the Corentyne River and the Atlantic Ocean. Ad hoc negotiations had to be conducted whenever foreign petroleum companies wished to conduct exploration in the Eastern section of Guyana's Exclusive Economic Zone, which is claimed by Suriname. This constituted an impediment to Guyana's exercise of "sovereign rights" over its natural resources provided for under Article 56.1 (a) of the Convention.
Venezuela's claims to over 150,000 km2 of Guyana's land and a large part of its hydrospace have their origins in the conflicts between imperial Spain and its rebellious Dutch provinces. The Spanish claim rested on discovery and prescription by papal donation; as the successor State to the Spanish Captaincy- General, Venezuela demanded title to the lands west of the Essequibo River. The British claims rested on the principle of effective occupation by the Dutch and by cession by the Treaty of Munster (1648). As successor-State to the Dutch colonies under the Convention of London (1814), Britain claimed title to the entire territory.
In 1840, the British Boundary Commission surveyed the boundary between the two territories but its findings were rejected by the Venezuelan side. After a series of incidents, agreement was reached under the Treaty of Washington of 2nd February 1897 for the dispute to be submitted to arbitration, the award of which would be a "full, perfect and final settlement." In 1899, the award of the tribunal was handed down and accepted by the parties; the boundary was surveyed in accordance with the award, the details embodied on maps and certified by agreement of 10th January 1905.
In 1962, on Guyana's approach to Independence, Venezuela declared the 1899 Award to be nullity. British haste to 'clear its desk' led to signing of the Geneva Agreement on 17th February 1966 by which, inter alia, a mixed commission was to be set up to seek satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy. The same year, however, Venezuelan troops occupied the Guyanese (eastern) portion of the Ankoko Island, located in the Cuyuni River, which formed part of the boundary.
In 1968, the Venezuelan Government published a Presidential decree purporting to annex a nine-mile wide belt of seaspace, along the Essequibo coast of Guyana. Venezuela had extended its territorial sea claim to 12 miles on 23rd July 1956; this probably explained the decision to claim only nine miles in addition to the existing limit of three miles claimed by Guyana.
The decree, however, violated the Geneva Agreement (Art. V (2) and the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of 1958 (Articles 1 and 4(5).
In addition to its pseudo-legal attempt to appropriate Guyana's seaspace by decree, Venezuela initiated various other acts of aggression and interference in the Essequibo area. On 15th May 1968, a paid advertisement, entitled "Communiqu from the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs" dated 14th May 1968, was published in The Times newspaper of London. In it, the Venezuelan Government warned the international community that it would not recognise any economic concessions granted by the Guyana Government in the Essequibo area.
Between 1966 and 1968, Venezuelan officials in Georgetown were implicated in attempts to organise secret meetings of the leaders of the indigenous Amerindian population in an attempt to induce them to denounce the Guyana Government and support Venezuela's claims to Essequibo. As a result, Guyana expelled a Venezuelan diplomat from Georgetown. In January 1969, Venezuela was also involved in training, arming and transporting dissidents to launch a rebellion in the Rupununi District of Essequibo, the leader of which sought secession from the State of Guyana.
It was in light of this pattern of events and, later, several other incidents that, through the good offices of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, negotiations were started between Guyana and Venezuela in June 1970. These produced an agreement called The Protocol of Port-of-Spain (i.e., the protocol to the Geneva Agreement) of 18th June 1970.
Under Article II, the two sides undertook not to assert claims to each other's territory and, under Article V, it was specified that the Protocol would remain in effect for 12 years but could be renewed by agreement between the two sides. The main aim of the Protocol was to freeze the issue for 12 years but relations deteriorated and, in April 1981, the Venezuelan Government stated that it would not be willing to extend its life. As a result, in June 1982, the Protocol expired.
By the time the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was open for signature in 1982, Guyana's sovereignty over a significant part of its seaspace was under challenge and its security was under threat by the adjacent states of Suriname and Venezuela.
Controversies on both sides had been raging for 20 years since 1962 but, apart from temporising expedients such as the Joint Declaration in the case of Suriname and the Protocol of Port-of-Spain in the case of Venezuela, no concrete achievements towards the settlement of the claims had been recorded. As a small State threatened with aggression, Guyana had to seek safety beneath the shelter of the Convention as the embodiment of international law, and under the Maritime Boundaries Act, its own municipal law. On 30th June 1977, Guyana passed its own Maritime Boundaries Act which reflected its anxieties over security, sovereignty and jurisdiction.
When Guyana became an independent state on 26th May 1966, it succeeded to all the territory that hitherto comprised the colony of British Guiana. At the basis of the act of accession to Independence is the fact that, according to William W. Bishop's definition:
... a state occupies a definite part of the surface of the earth, within which it normally exercises, subject to the limitations imposed by international law, jurisdiction over persons and things to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of other states.
This kind of jurisdiction could be regarded correctly as 'sovereignty' over territory. In relations between states, sovereignty signifies both independence and jurisdiction over a particular territory; it is "... the right to exercise therein, to the exclusion of any other state, the functions of a state." "Jurisdiction" means "... capacity of a state under international law to prescribe or enforce a rule of law."
A significant feature of Guyana's Maritime Boundaries Act of 1977 was its insistence that Guyana's sovereignty "has always extended to the territorial sea and to the seabed and subsoil underlying, and the airspace over such sea" (Article 5) and that it has always had "full and exclusive sovereignty rights in respect of the continental shelf" (Article 10). That apart, the Act follows the text of the Convention faithfully in its most general provisions. An examination of the Act clearly illustrates Guyana's pre-occupation with security of its seaspace:
* The Territorial Sea: The outer limits were set at 12 miles from the base-line (Article 3). Foreign warships, including submarines and other underwater vehicles, were required to give the Government prior notice (Article 3) and, in the case of submarines and other underwater vehicles, additionally must navigate on the surface and show their flag while passing through the sea. The Act further empowered the Minister to suspend absolutely, or with qualification, the entry of any class of foreign ships into the sea (Article 6, ); this differs from the Convention under which suspension should be temporary and must be published (Article 25 ).
* The Continental Shelf: The Act provides for the President to declare any area of the continental shelf and its superjacent waters to be "designated to make provisions for the exploration and protection of the resources; the safety and protection of artificial islands, offshore terminals, installations and other devices; the protection of the marine environment; customs and other fiscal matters; or, the entry into, and passage through, the 'designated area', of foreign ships (Art. 12 (b)). The concept of the designated area doubtless strengthens the competence of the Guyana Government beyond the normal provisions of the Convention for the continental shelf.
*The Exclusive Economic Zone: Under the Act, it was necessary for the President to make an order to declare a specific area an exclusive economic zone (Art. 15); for reasons of State, this was not done until 23rd February 1991 by Order No. 19 of 1991. The Act also provided for any part of the EEZ to be declared a 'designated area', under identical conditions to those for the continental shelf, save that, in the EEZ, provision may also be made with respect to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of such designated areas, such as the production of energy from tides, winds and currents (Art. 18 (b) (ii).
* The Fishery Zone: The Act established a fishery zone beyond, and adjacent to, the territorial sea, with an outer limit of 200 miles from the baseline of the territorial sea (Art. 23). This area coincides with that of the EEZ and seemed to serve to ensure Guyana's sovereignty over its living marine resources.
* Maritime Boundaries: The Act empowered the President "... wherever he considers it necessary or expedient so to do having regard to International Law and State practice, by order to alter the seaward limit of the territorial sea, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone and the fishery zone" (Art. 34). In addition, it made provision for the maritime boundaries between Guyana and any adjacent coastal state with regard to any maritime zone to be determined by agreement or pending agreement, to be set by the equidistant method. Taken as a whole, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has been used by Guyana as a basic, but very broad, guide to the framing of Guyana's Maritime Boundaries Act. Several provisions of the Act are clearly based on the need to safeguard the State's security and sovereignty over its seaspace.
Law of the Sea
The question needs to be asked whether Guyana, as a small state, has the capacity to exercise such functions of a coastal state, to a reasonable degree, with regard to the Law of the Sea.
In broad terms, the Law has seven major purposes which must be fulfilled by coastal states. These purposes are: to provide equitable access to resources; to protect and preserve the marine environment and its marine technology; to establish a system for the conduct of marine scientific research; to provide a system for the settlement of marine disputes and to codify states' rights in various maritime zones in internal waters, territorial seas, contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones, archipelagic waters, international straits and the high seas.
This was a heavy burden of responsibility for a small state to bear, even in return for the rights it expects to enjoy. Like other developing states, Guyana suffers from a low level of industrialisation and lack of sufficient technology, equipment and financial resources, especially marine technology connected with shipbuilding, fishing, oceanographic research and weather prediction.
There is also the lack of sufficient manpower equipped with the managerial and professional skills capable of harnessing the meagre resources and making the decisions needed to derive benefit from those resources.
At first glance, it seemed that Guyana stood to gain from the Law in three important ways. First, its geographical location, facing the open Atlantic Ocean, permitted it to claim a territorial sea, continental shelf and fishery and exclusive economic zones to the full extent. Second, the economic benefits were enlarged by greater access to commercially exploitable living and non-living resources of the sea. Third, in political terms, state sovereignty had been enhanced by the recognition and enhancement of Guyana's role and responsibilities in the international maritime community.
The effects of these changes on Guyana should not be measured merely either by legal enactments or the enforcement capability of the State alone. An examination of the wider environment of the circum-Caribbean should be made if Guyana's true status as a maritime state is to be determined.
Venezuela's maritime pre-eminence is based on its possession of the longest Caribbean coastline of any state (2,718 km); a sizeable continental shelf which is rich in petroleum and other mineral resources; abundant living resources owing to the confluence of equatorial currents; numerous natural harbours; extensive maritime transport and transnational economic activity and being strategically located as a link between the North and South American continental land-masses. These attributes have been reinforced by increasing economic wealth, derived mainly from petroleum revenues and growing maritime power derived from the sizes of its naval, fishing, merchant marine and oceanographic scientific research fleets. Not least of all is the fact that Venezuela laid claim to the single largest exclusive economic zone which comprises 37 per cent of the Caribbean Sea.
Venezuela's quest for maritime power began 58 years ago with the Anglo-Venezuelan Agreement of the Gulf of Paria of 26 February 1942, which had pre-dated even the Truman Proclamation as an initiative to exercise sovereignty rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of marine mining. Venezuela's Act Concerning the Territorial Sea, Continental Shelf, Fishing Protection and Air-space of 23rd July 1956 had the effect of establishing a 12-mile territorial sea. In this Act, corresponding control over the seabed and airspace were explicitly claim-ed along with a contiguous zone of three miles and continental shelf jurisdiction up to the 200 metre isobath or beyond the limit of exploitation. Difficult situations arose, however, when the idea of the 200- mile Exclusive Economic Zone became entrenched in the Law of the Sea under the Convention. Venezuela's central location in the Caribbean, and its far-reaching claims, made delimitation arrangements with several other states necessary. Venezuela's vote against the adoption of the Convention, apparently on the ground that "it was denied the right to make reservations even to so vacuous a formula as the convention contains" for delimitation, rightly raised concerns about its maritime motives and ambitions.
In fact, Venezuela embarked on an aggressive campaign of bilateral negotiations to seek separate solutions to its delimitation disputes and problems. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a high-powered technical team comprising economists, geologists, marine biologists, geographers, cartographers, international lawyers and naval officers to work on the negotiations of its boundaries with its nine neighbours in the Caribbean Sea. These neighbours included the UK, the USA, France, The Netherlands (Antilles), Grenada, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Colombia, all becoming part of the scenario which emerged in the wake of Venezuela's thrust to define its EEZ boundaries.
Dealing with the metropolitan states was a profitable tactic since Venezuela was able to give great weight to the 500 metre islet (Aves Island). This islet alone generated 30 per cent of Venezuela's entire EEZ; the reason for this was because, according to Carl W. Dundas:
These metropolitan powers may have interests outside of the region more important than those within the region which can be traded-off either among themselves or with the bigger Caribbean powers such as Venezuela. This may serve to explain the important concession made by the USA, France and the Netherlands in the weight that they accorded Aves Island in their respective maritime boundary agreements with Venezuela.
Dealing with individual, independent states also provided the opportunity for Venezuelan national interests to be comfortably assured, often to the disadvantage of third parties excluded from the negotiations. One such example was the Treaty Between the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Republic of Venezuela on the Delimitation of Marine and Sub-Marine Areas of 18th April 1990, in which both states correctly sought to project their own interests without resorting to a more appropriate multilateral mechanism which the particular situation may have warranted.
It was acknowledged that Venezuela sought a strategic salida al Atlantico and Trinidad and Tobago probably wanted access to new areas of potential hydrocarbon resources. The point has been made, however, that the area of concern is bordered by four states - Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela - not by the latter two alone. Thus,according to Carl W. Dundas:
It would be sensible for the three CARICOM members concerned (Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago) to get the support of CARICOM as a whole for an approach which would include a common technical report on their potential boundary limits in the area vis-a-vis Venezuela.
Venezuela's relentless claims to the entire Essequibo region of Guyana; its attempt to appropriate the territorial waters of Guyana off the Essequibo coast; its insistence on referring to the Essequibo in its publications and charts as the zona en reclamacin and Guyana's own assertion of its sovereignty over its territorial seas and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone point to the problems and pitfalls of maritime boundary delimitation in this particular case.
As a coastal state, Guyana attempted to assert its sovereignty over its seaspace by military and legal measures. The efficacy of these measures could be ascertained not only by the degree of coercion used in their enforcement but also by the international recognition received and by the absence of protests. Guyana's efforts to maintain its territorial integrity by military means started in the month just prior to Independence with the formation of the Guyana Defence Force which was charged with the defence and maintenance of order in Guyana and with such other duties as may from time to time be defined by the Defence Board.
A unit of the Force, entitled the Maritime Corps, was established in 1967 and equipped with a few small launches and auxiliary boats which could be operated only in internal waters. From the time of the enactment of the Maritime Boundaries Act in 1977, however, some additional vessels, capable of patrolling the territorial sea and fishing zone, were acquired. It was not until 1990 that a Coast Guard came into existence with the passage of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990. The Coast Guard was to be employed primarily as a:
...coast watching force, maintaining a state of readiness to function as a specialized service, enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of all applicable laws in and under the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction or Guyana.
Members of the Coast Guard were designated as fishery officers and were given the same powers, authorities, privileges and liabilities as the civil police in the performance of their maritime functions. These included, inter alia, the authority to "enforce the provisions of every law" relating to the regulation of rivers or ports, quarantine, immigration, the territorial sea, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone and the fishing zone, safety at sea and narcotics and psychotropic substances and to detect and prevent the contravention of laws relating to revenue and customs.
Given the expanse of hydrospace brought under Guyana's jurisdiction as a consequence of the Law of the Sea, and in accordance with the state's own Maritime Boundaries Act - an area of about 130, 300 km2 or three-fifths of the size of its land space - the Coast Guard faced a great challenge to preserve Guyana's coastal security.
From a practical standpoint, however, the fulfilment of such a function over so vast an area would have required a small navy which was far beyond the ability of Guyana to afford. Indeed, the Coast Guard had few craft with the speed, firepower, equipment, range and endurance to arrest even a small fraction of the foreign fishing vessels which poached frequently in the fertile waters of the 'Guiana Current' or smuggled contraband commodities into and out of the open coastland.
Exercise of sovereignty
From the time of the introduction of the Maritime Boundaries Act in 1977, Guyana's Coast Guard (at that time still designated the Maritime Corps of the Guyana Defence Force) purchased a 30-metre patrol craft armed with 40mm guns as the flagship of its small fleet. During the decade following, the fleet expanded to 11 vessels, and personnel increased to 270. Surface craft were backed up by aerial reconnaissance aircraft from the GDF Air Corps and radar stations located along the 432 km coastline.
These arrangements for the enforcement of the Act were immediately successful. Seven vessels, all from the Republic of Korea and based in neighbouring Suriname, were seized, their catch confiscated and their captains fined by Guyana's courts in 1977. In succeeding years, several vessels registered in South Korea, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and Barbados were held after being discovered fishing illegally in Guyana's fishery zone. It appears that, as a rule, no fines used to be imposed on vessels of neighbouring and CARICOM states in those early days of enforcement but, invariably, other foreign vessels were fined.
Occasionally, the seizures at sea involved the use of force. In some cases, vessels which were fishing illegally tried to escape from the area or to take evasive action and refused to obey orders to stop to enable investigations to be carried out. In other cases, Coast Guard patrol craft opened fire as a last resort when peaceful measures went unheeded. In one incident, a crew member of a Korean fishing boat was killed by gunfire after his captain not only refused to stop and but also attempted to ram the Coast Guard vessel. What was important was that no protest was made against Guyana's right to execute seizures nor did any person so arrested claim to have been fishing in waters not under Guyanese jurisdiction. Appeals were made only against the size of fines imposed and the seizure of vessels.
Secondly, from a commercial standpoint, Guyana took another step towards the consolidation of sovereignty over its marine resources with the introduction of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, 1986 which became law on 14th June 1986. Under articles 1 (2) and 2 (2), Guyana was defined to include "reference to the territorial sea, the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone."
In pursuance of its provisions, licences have been issued from time to time for foreign companies to conduct exploration activities. The issuance of these licences by the Guyana Government was not challenged by adjacent coastal states up to the time of the CGX incident of 3rd June 2000, or by international agencies, organisations and corporations. All the areas in which foreign companies were granted licences to conduct exploration were located in the EEZ claimed by Guyana. Bilateral fishing agreements allowing foreign vessels to fish in Guyana's waters were also made without challenge or protest.
Thirdly, Guyana's Parliament, wherever necessary, passed legislation and the Government made regulations which were enforced through the courts and by various arms of the State such as the Fisheries Department (for fishing), the (then) Customs and Excise Department, the Harbour Master's Department, the Guyana Natural Resources Agency (for offshore petroleum exploration, etc.), and by the Coast Guard. The fact is that these acts of sovereignty and jurisdiction were exercised continuously and without objection or protest by the international community.
Need for delimitation
The question of the security of the seaspace, however, cannot be answered without the satisfactory delimitation of maritime boundaries. In both controversies affecting Guyana, it can be seen that the failure to settle boundaries on land had a direct bearing on the absence of acceptable arrangements at sea. In the pursuit of a final solution, it might be impossible to separate the two. In any event, even if an attempt were made to deal with the maritime boundaries by themselves, there is no guarantee that a satisfactory solution could be reached under the existing provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The regimes of the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf are governed by Articles 15, 74 and 83 of the Convention respectively. Article 15 seems to assume that some attempt would have been made by (opposite or) adjacent coastal states to negotiate an agreement; it does not prescribe, however, an obligatory mechanism or process for so doing, with regard to the territorial sea. What it does prescribe is that, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, neither state would be entitled:
... to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas on each of the two states is measured.
The exception is that such a rule should not apply in cases where "historic title" or "special circumstances" prevail.
Articles 74 and 83 which deal with the delimitation of the territorial sea and continental shelf are worded in an identical manner. They are both unambiguous and mandatory in prescribing that the delimitation of the respective zones:
... shall be affected by agreement on the basis of international law, as referred to in Articles 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice in order to achieve an equitable solution.
The Articles, furthermore, prescribe that resort must be made to the provisions detailed in Part XV (Settlement of Disputes) of the Convention and that, pending agreement in accordance with Article 38 of the Statute of the ICJ, every effort must be made "... to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature ... not to jeopardise or hamper the reaching of the final agreement."
In the cases of Guyana's delimitation disputes with Venezuela and Suriname, very little concrete progress has been made over the past 40 years. Except for the Protocol of Port-of-Spain and the Joint Declaration respectively, which brought an end to serious military clashes, the parties concerned have been engaged only in inconclusive bilateral talks, the 'UN Good Officer Process' notwithstanding. It would be difficult for the parties to embark suddenly on the path of negotiation in order to reach an agreement which they have failed to do for decades. Notwithstanding the obligatory nature of Articles 74 and 83, also, it may take many years before formal treaties are concluded between Guyana and the adjacent coastal states. Until that time, Guyana cannot claim justifiably, that its maritime borders are secure.
Insofar as sovereignty has been defined as the exercise of "jurisdiction over persons and things to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of other states", Guyana's sovereignty over its seaspace has been gravely threatened. The absence of legal agreements on the delimitation of maritime boundaries, therefore, continues to constitute a threat to its security which cannot be ignored.
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