MARAD goes after sunken vessel -coordinates to be established, investigations launched

The MV Dona Martha which is partially sunken off the coast of Guyana (Stabroek News photo)

THE Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) is expected to conduct hydrographic surveys today to establish the coordinates of a vessel which reportedly sunk offshore Guyana with a large quantity of rice.
The vessel, identified as MV Dona Martha, reportedly sank four miles off the Essequibo Coast on Wednesday, after it left Guyana for Venezuela with a shipment of rice. According to reports, the ship began taking in water and the crew, not being able to remedy the problem, abandoned it. Thereafter, the vessel sunk. The crew is believed to be a Venezuelan one.
Reports indicate that the vessel was transporting rice through a private deal to neighbouring Venezuela which is currently facing severe economic crises. Persons have also reported that half of the quantity of rice went down with the partially-sunken ship while the remaining packages were looted after the crew abandoned the vessel.
On the other hand, it is not clear whether the ship had entered Guyana legally. Director General of MARAD, Claudette Rogers, through her Public Relations Officer (PRO), Akosua McPherson, related that the department was informed about the incident on March 9. “It’s only last Thursday we learnt about this vessel when it was reported to us” the PRO said, adding that MARAD will send the hydrographic surveys today, Wednesday, to establish the coordinates of the sunken vessel.
She said that once this is established, the department will dispatch messages to mariners for their safety. Asked whether MARAD was aware of the MV Dona Martha’s presence in Guyana, McPherson responded in the affirmative.
“Yes, we were aware that this vessel was in Guyana because we received noticed about a month ago that they are here.”
However, she could not say if the vessel had been granted permission for entry, or it had accessed Guyana’s maritime space illegally. Additionally, MARAD is still to investigate whether the vessel belongs to Venezuela. However, authorities say there is no ship belonging to Guyana with the name MV Dona Martha which images reveal is painted on the sunken vessel.
The private rice deal which the ship is believed to have been facilitating was entered into after the Government to Government rice-for-oil (called PetroCaribe) deal between Guyana and Venezuela collapsed in 2015.
The PetroCaribe deal was an oil sale arrangement where Guyana and a number of CARICOM and Latin America countries take oil from Venezuela at concessionary rate, pay a percentage in advance and the balance over a 20-year period. However, in 2015 Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro issued a decree claiming thre-quarters of Guyana’s landmass and most of this country’s Atlantic waters just after oil reserves were discovered by ExxonMobil.
The Petrocaribe deal was one which was renewed on an annual basis. However, that year Venezuela opted not to renew the agreement with Guyana and subsequently struck a deal with Suriname to take rice from the Dutch-speaking nation. This birthed the private rice deal between Guyanese millers and buyers in Venezuela.