Oil rig talks fold
Patterson to try again

Stabroek News
July 18, 2000

Guyana's bid to have the CGX Energy Inc oil rig return to its Eagle site ended in yet another stalemate last night in Kingston, after talks with Suriname on the issue folded.

According to the Jamaica Observer newspaper, the failure came after the two sides failed to settle on a formula for the interim sharing of resources in the disputed offshore area while they continued to work towards a final agreement on exclusive economic zones.

Prime Minister P J Patterson, asked by his Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners to facilitate the talks, had hoped to get Guyana's Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee and his Surinamese counterpart, Errol Snijders, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the way forward. But just before 9:00 pm, the four-days of talks finally broke without either initialling the draft document. Snijders and his delegation headed straight for the Norman Manley airport for a charter flight to Curacao. Snijders declined to comment on the outcome of the talks. "We will communicate with you," he told reporters.

While saying that he would leave Jamaica with "mixed feelings", Rohee, however, declined to characterise the negotiations as a failure. "I wouldn't say so," Rohee said, when asked specifically if the talks had failed. "You have to see negotiations as a process." But even circumstance seemed to conspire against a settlement, for a dramatic 11th hour telephone call from Guyana's President, Bharrat Jagdeo, to Rohee, just before Rohee drove away from Jamaica House, was disconnected while Rohee was on his way back to the Cabinet Room, the Jamaica Observer said. Jagdeo had called from the Hilton Hotel in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad where he was addressing a conference on investment. "We lost the call," said an official. "Half the lines to Trinidad are down and we had been able to contact somebody in Trinidad who volunteered to drive to the Hilton to get Jagdeo to call Jamaica."

The border dispute blew up last month when Suriname sent gunboats to chase CGX's leased rig from the area. Guyana had granted exploration rights to the Canadian company in 1998.

Jamaica was asked to facilitate a new round of talks after direct negotiations between the two countries failed to resolve the problem. At the fifth round of talks, which began in Montego Bay on Friday, with both Jagdeo and his Surinamese opposite, Jules Wijdenbosch present, Jamaica suggested that both sides fall back on paragraph 3 of Article 74 of the Law of the Sea Convention. It allows for states without delimitation agreements to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature during this transitional period without jeopardising or hampering the reaching of a final agreement.

Under this arrangement, it was proposed that they would establish a mechanism for the granting of exploration licences in the disputed area and the sharing of proceeds. The Suriname/Guyana Border Commission would also be rejuvenated and given specific timetables to reach a settlement, and Jamaica would help to find experts to advise on the issue. Kingston was also willing to continue as honest-broker, the Jamaica Observer said.

The talks were originally scheduled for two days and by Saturday evening Patterson believed that he had coaxed Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch, with their foreign ministers having only to put the final language to the MOU at a night-time session. Wijdenbosch left Jamaica on Saturday evening after the earlier round of discussions and, according to diplomatic sources, the consensus of the previous two days fell apart as Suriname backed away from previous agreements.

Jagdeo left Montego Bay for Port-of-Spain on Sunday, but Patterson insisted that the foreign ministers stay on for more talks that went into Sunday evening. But the MOU for which the Prime Minister had hoped did not materialise. Patterson talked to Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch on Sunday night and yesterday morning and asked that Rohee and Snijders come to Kingston for another crack at a consensus.

He kept the foreign ministers at Jamaica House for more than eight hours, causing the Surinamese to miss their 6:00 pm flight. But even then, he could not force a breakthrough. "The issue stalled on a mechanism for awarding exploration licences and sharing of resources in the disputed areas," said one source.

Neither Rohee nor Snijders would comment on the specific sticking point, but Rohee, according to the Jamaica Observer said: "Our position would not have prevented a resolution." Significantly, Patterson did not escort either foreign minister to the front door of the new wing of Jamaica House, leaving that to protocol officers.

Neither did the Prime Minister emerge to talk to reporters, leaving the building, as he usually does in the evenings, by the garage entrance. However, Rohee said that the Jamaica leader would schedule a new round of talks, but added: "I don't know when and I don't know where."

CGX officials could not be contacted last night on their next move. The company had announced last week that it would pack up its rig and leave the Corentyne basin by last Saturday if there was no positive outcome from the Montego Bay talks. As talks extended into yesterday officials were still optimistic. However, with the collapse of the talks last night and no timeframe set for more dialogue its continued presence in the Corentyne basin seems to be in jeopardy. CGX Chief Executive Officer Kerry Sully told Stabroek News on Sunday that the company had engaged in mobilising as well as demobilising activities in preparation for any decision.

CGX had drilled to 12,750 ft at an alternative location after being forced out by Suriname gunboats on June 3 but came up empty. The company said that once the rig left the site it would take at least two years before another similar rig would be available for lease.

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