10/5/19: US Coast Guard near Venezuela, intercepted by Bolivarian Navy

The U.S. Coastguard Cutter James was encountered in Venezuela's jurisdictional waters yesterday and was intercepted by the Venezuelan Coast Guard. The YouTube video below uploaded by WebInfomil.com provides audio of radio communications between the Venezuelan Coastguard and the USCGC.

Uploaded by WebInfomil | Published on May 10, 2019.
WebInfomil.com also included this report "¡Tension en el Caribe! Guardacostas de la EE.UU. navegó cerca de Venezuela y fue interceptado por la Armada Bolivariana. Webinfomil.com which appears to be Colombian, publishes defense and security news.

I provide below a translation of the report with apologies for all errors.

Tension in the Caribbean! USA Coast Guard sailed near Venezuela and was intercepted by the Bolivarian Navy.
By Roberto García H
(www.webinfomil.com | 10 May, 2019. - A serious incident that could have a great international impact occurred on the afternoon of Thursday, April [May] 9, in waters of the Caribbean Sea a few miles off the coast of Venezuela. In that location, an ocean patrol, part of the United States Coast Guard, entered the area adjacent to the Venezuelan territorial sea, where it sailed for several hours despite being intercepted by a naval unit of the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela.

It was the modern patrol boat of the Legend-Class "USCGC James", which was caught navigating in the Venezuelan maritime jurisdiction just 18 miles from the coast of the South American country on a course that took it from an area north of the port of La Guaira to an area north of Puerto Cabello, where the main naval base of the Bolivarian Navy is located.

The American ship was exercising its right of free navigation through this maritime zone that is part of international waters and where the Venezuelan state has no sovereignty. It should be remembered that the contiguous zone is the extension of the sea adjacent to the territorial sea, which ranges from 12 to 24 nautical miles from the coast. In this strip of water, the coastal State does not have sovereignty, but its rights are determined only in customs, sanitary, fiscal and migratory matters.

Despite this, the alarm was issued in all units of the Bolivarian Navy, different messages alerting the presence of the American ship so close to the maritime border of the Bolivarian country: "Good afternoon, commanding officers, let us be on alert because we have an American-flagged vessel - the Coast Guard James - sailing 18.5 miles north to the west. Goes west. Let's wait for instructions," said an unidentified Venezuelan Navy officer, according to audio files that were broadcast on social networks.

The warship ARBV Yekuana (a combat patrol vessel of the Avante 2200 class manufactured by the Spanish company Navantia) was deployed in an emergency to try to dissuade the American ship and invite it to evacuate the waters as they recorded leaked radio communications from the Coast Guard Command of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

In the exchange of messages, the Venezuelan military warn the crew of the coastguard James which is in Venezuelan waters and they ask what their intentions are. From the US ship, they deny that they are in an area under ​​Venezuelan sovereignty and claim to be on a routine patrol, ensuring compliance with the law in international waters. They say they are two nautical miles away from the Venezuelan waters.

[I made some edits to the paragraph below after listening to the audio.]

Faced with this negative response, the Venezuelan combat patrol officer insisted to the US vessel that was in Venezuelan waters and indicated the exact coordinates: "You are in latitude 10 degrees 50 minutes north, longitude 067 degrees 03 minutes west with course 264, speed 10 knots at 14.4 nautical miles from the port of La Guaira. You are in jurisdictional waters of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and is not authorized by the constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to conduct law enforcement operations in sea jurisdictional waters of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela That right belongs only to the Venezuelan State. We invite you to leave the Venezuelan jurisdictional waters, assuming northwest direction at maximum available speed. In case of not doing so, it will proceed according to international law..... our rights, our sovereignty over aquatic spaces and jurisdictional waters......... Are you clear, Coast Guard James? ......[communiation continues]"

"We invite you to take a northwest course. The Government of Venezuela will be informed of your position, or other actions will be taken" was part of the demand to the USCG James coastguard, who after arriving near Puerto Cabello after several hours of navigation in the contiguous zone took the north course towards the island of Bonaire.

About the Cutter USCGC James

The USCGC James is a tall patrol vessel of the Legend class, also known as the National Security Cutter (NSC). It is one of the largest ships in service with the United States Coast Guard and was commissioned to service in 2015. Its main base is located in the port of Charleston (South Carolina) although it is usually deployed in the Caribbean Sea. under the jurisdiction of the Southern Command of the United States in its effort to combat narcotics trafficking to North America.

This type of patrol vessels are equipped only to face security operations at sea and low intensity conflicts, so their armament is quite austere. The USCGC James is equipped with a three-dimensional TRS-3D radar from Hensoldt that provides surface and air target search functions, the Electronic Warfare System (EW) AN / SLQ-32 (V), a 57 mm Bofors cannon, MK 53 NULKA decoy launchers, MK 36 SRBOC countermeasure systems and a Phalanx CIWS anti-missile system.

About the Cutter ARBV Yekuana

The Yekuana is a Guaiquerí-Class vessel (as the Avante 2200 in Venezuela are known), a class of Oceanic Surveillance Patrol of the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela built in the Spanish shipyards of Navantia. The POVZEE vessels have stealth technology with reduced radar and infrared signals, as well as a special design to minimize the noise and vibration emissions of the propulsion system. A stern hangar and flight deck allow the operation of a rotary wing aircraft.

These vessels acquired by the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, are designed to carry out missions such as the surveillance and protection of the Exclusive Economic Zone, protection of maritime traffic, the defense of strategic interests, search and rescue operations, humanitarian operations, pursuit of contraband, drug trafficking and illegal immigration and surveillance and obtaining operational intelligence information.

The 3 active ships of this class are equipped with a Smart-S Mk2 3D radar, Tactical Combat System, a Oto Melara 76 mm gun, a 35 mm gun, 12.7 mm machine guns and a reserve space for the future installation of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems. SOURCE


My Note: While the author of this report is accurate in  stating that there is a difference between the territorial seas and the contiguous zone in terms of the extent of a coastal state's jurisdiction as outlined in the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, certain confined powers may still be exercised by a state within its contiguous zone to protect the integrity of its territory. I think the major extenuating factor in this event was that the military vessel being intercepted belongs to an aggressor nation. After all, it has been declared for the world to hear, that all "options" are on the table. Otherwise, in normal times under the UNCLOS, even military vessels are allowed free passage not just in the contiguous zone but also through a state's territorial waters. I am thinking that UNCLOS, in future iterations, should in the case of military vessels consider the extending of jurisdiction as regards "innocent passage" to include activities in the contiguous zone. I am no expert but I do not think that 12 nautical miles is a reassuring buffer against the military vessels of hostile nations. This addition to UNCLOS would extend the buffer to 24 nautical miles in times of aggression/undeclared war/war to include the contiguous zone and to hold military vessels to the requirements of "innocent passage" that apply within the territorial seas as outlined in Article 19 of UNCLOS:

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Meaning of innocent passage

1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State.  Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;

(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;

(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;

(e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;

(f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;

(g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;

(h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;

(i) any fishing activities;

(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

(k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;

(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.

Apart from that there are other facts about this incident which are not available to us. When this vessel was intercepted, it was about two miles off Venezuela's territorial waters and therefore in its contiguous zone. Was it closing the gap when it was intercepted or was its passage lateral to the coast? Had it been lingering in the area? And why, as a matter of courtesy and a gesture of reassurance, don't military vessels simply inform their counterparts in the coastal states of their entry into their jurisdictions?

Apart from all of that, Venezuela has never signed or acceded to the UNCLOS and while the USA signed it, it has never been ratified.

Venezuelan Navy wards off US Coast Guard ship ‘close’ to territorial waters. [Republished]
RT News | 11 May, 2019

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.