Royal Navy Sends Warship to Guyana as Border Tensions Rise

HMS Trent
Royal Navy file image

Published Dec 24, 2023 9:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has dispatched a Royal Navy patrol ship to Guyana amidst rising tensions between the former British colony and Venezuela, its neighbor to the northwest. 

The small patrol vessel HMS Trent is already in the Caribbean for a routine patrol. She will head south to visit Guyana towards the end of December "as part of a series of engagements in the region," a spokesperson for the UK Ministry of Defence said. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has increased tensions along the border by reasserting old claims to the province of Essequibo, Guyana. This rainforest region accounts for two-thirds of Guyana's land area, but a small fraction of its population. It may have valuable mineral resources, including gold and oil.

The dispute dates back to the 1800s, when Guyana was known as British Guiana, and has flared up periodically every half-century. In 2020, the International Court of Justice agreed to take up a Guyanese case to settle the disagreement once and for all. Maduro maintains that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction, and earlier this year he held a referendum asking Venezuelans whether Essequibo should be part of their country. The result - as reported by Maduro's authoritarian state - showed overwhelming popular approval for the idea.

HMS Trent's show of military support for Guyana will be limited to maneuvers at sea, according to the BBC. The vessel will not be calling at the capital and main seaport of Georgetown. 

Guyana's maritime sector is of newfound geopolitical relevance because of the discovery of oil in ExxonMobil's Stabroek Block lease area, and the outbreak of war could be disruptive for operations in this burgeoning new offshore region. The actual risk of conflict is debated, but it is high enough that Lloyd's Joint War Committee has added the Guyanese offshore sector to its list of areas of elevated risk.