The USCGC James, one of the US Navy’s most technologically advanced ships, was sailing towards Venezuela’s territorial waters when a patrol boat was sent to warn it off. The US vessel backed off after radio communication.
The Venezuelan Navy released a statement on Friday, saying the incident took place on Thursday and involved a US Coast Guard vessel heading towards the Latin American country’s main port of La Guaira.
The USCGC James was 14 nautical miles (16 miles) off Venezuela’s coast when Caracas sent a patrol vessel to intercept it. In the course of subsequent radio communications, the USCGC James agreed to turn away.
“The USCGC James was encouraged to change its course and leave our jurisdictional waters. The instruction was obeyed,” the Venezuelan Navy said in a statement.
The Navy had already spotted the vessel a day before when it was transiting through Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone, and sent a patrol vessel to start monitoring its maneuvers.
A state’s territorial waters reaches up to 12 nautical miles, while a “contiguous zone” in which a state can enforce limited control for the purpose of preventing “infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations” can be set to up to 24 nautical miles. An exclusive economic zone extends up to 200 nautical miles.
Venezuela’s UN envoy, Samuel Moncada, slammed the US ship’s actions as a clear provocation aimed at inciting unrest.
“War traffickers get excited because they see a US Coast Guard very close to Venezuelan territorial waters. It’s a typical provocation to ramp up tensions,” Moncada tweeted.
The USCGC James, described as the most technologically advanced ship in the US Coast Guard fleet, is fitted with modern surveillance and reconnaissance equipment.
According to the US Navy, it can also serve as command post for “complex law enforcement and national security missions involving the Coast Guard and numerous partner agencies.”
The ship’s voyage follows an attempt by US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido to remove Maduro from power. Before and after the failed coup attempt, Washington issued a flurry of unambiguous threats against Venezuela, including refusing to rule out the military option for the crisis-hit country.
Just last week, Washington reiterated that “any action we took in Venezuela would be lawful,” also urging Venezuelan service members to defect. Maduro has ordered forces loyal to him to brace for a possible US intervention, saying earlier that if it happens, it would be a new ‘Vietnam’ for the US.