By Neil Marks
BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) - Guyana's government said on Friday the navy of neighboring Venezuela had evicted a ship used by a U.S. oil exploration company from Guyanese waters, calling the move unprecedented and a serious threat to security.
Guyana's foreign ministry said a Venezuelan naval vessel on Thursday ordered the RV Teknik Perdana to change course and stop surveying. The ministry said the ship, which was being used by Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp, was then escorted to the Venezuelan island of Margarita.
Officials at Venezuela's defense ministry were not immediately available to comment. A border dispute between the two countries began more than a century ago, and oil exploration in recent years has only fan the flames.
"The actions taken by the Venezuelan navy vessel constitute a serious threat to the peace of this sub-region," Guyana's foreign ministry said in a statement after Thursday's incident.
After a disagreement about whose territory the RV Teknik Perdana was working in, Guyana's foreign ministry said its crew was told to change course and switch off its surveying gear.
"It was then clear the vessel and its crew were not only being escorted out of Guyana's waters, but were under arrest. These actions by the Venezuelan naval vessel are unprecedented in Guyana-Venezuela relations," the statement said.
Guyana said it had demanded the immediate release of the vessel, and that it was looking for a diplomatic resolution.
Asked about the case, Venezuela's Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters in Caracas the Venezuelan government was checking the reports.
Guyana awarded Anadarko Petroleum Corp a deep water exploration license in June last year for a block named Roraima, although details of the concession have not been revealed.
Oil companies have been increasingly interested in the northeastern shoulder of South America since a discovery off nearby French Guyana in 2011 that industry experts described as a game-changer for the region's energy prospects.
Venezuela and Guyana have long argued about the status of the disputed Essequibo region, an area on the border about the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, and over rights to the ocean resources that lie offshore. Venezuela calls it a "reclamation zone," but in practice it functions as Guyanese territory.
(Reporting by Neil Marks; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Vicki Allen)