A Venezuelan Navy offshore patrol vessel Naiguata sent to intercept a cruise ship accidentally sank itself. After ramming the cruise ship RCGS Resolute‘s steel-reinforced hull, the patrol boat sank with no injuries. The Resolute suffered only minor damage because it was reinforced to withstand iceberg-infested waters.
According to Maritime Executive, the incident took place 13 nautical miles off the coast of Isla de Tortuga, an uninhabited Venezuelan island.
The Naiguata ordered the Resolute to follow it to Venezuela and port, on the pretext of “violation of Venezuelan territorial waters.” While the cruise ship crew was consulting with the home office, the navy vessel fired several warning shots and began ramming the cruise ship.
What the crew of the Naiguata apparently did not realize was that the Resolute’s hull is stronger than average because of its iceberg-resistant hull. The ship’s website describes the hull as having “high density steel plating” to allow it to sail in “ice laden large waters.”
Columbia Cruise Services, operators of the Resolute, tell the ship’s side of the story:
While the Master was in contact with the head office, gun shots were fired and, shortly thereafter, the navy vessel approached the starboard side at speed with an angle of 135° and purposely collided with the RCGS RESOLUTE. The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters.
While the RCGS RESOLUTE sustained minor damages, not affecting vessel’s seaworthiness, it occurs that the navy vessel suffered severe damages while making contact with the ice-strengthened bulbous bow of the ice-class expedition cruise vessel RCGS RESOLUTE and started to take water.
The Naiguata ended up sinking. According to Columbia Cruise Services, Resolute stayed in the vicinity until the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Curaçao, the authority responsible for local incidents at sea, told it to continue on its voyage. Resolute also claims that offers to lend aid to the stricken ship were “left unanswered.”
The Venezuelan military disputed that, stating “the action of the ship Resolute is considered cowardly and criminal, since it did not attend to the rescue of the crew, in breach of the international regulations that regulate the rescue of life at sea.” A statement attributed to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro alleged that the cruise ship was actually to blame in an “act of aggression and piracy.”
After being released by the MRCC, the Resolute sailed on to safety, docking at the island of Curaçao.
The website FleetMon has a photo of damage to the Resolute’s hull, which appears minor, as well as a file photo of the Naiguata. The Resolute, built in 1993, is 400 feet long and 59 feet wide. It displaces 8,378 tons and normally carries up to 146 passengers.
Guaicamacuto, sister ship of the Naiguata. The Naiguata was 259 feet long and had a top speed of 22 knots. This ship was also armed with a 76-millimeter Oto-Melara rapid fire deck gun, 35-millimeter Oerlikon Millennium close-in weapon system, and two .50-caliber machine guns. As a surface ship, Naiguata typically embarks with a crew of 34.
It’s not clear what happened here, but one thing is clear: Venezuela’s story doesn’t add up. For one, Resolute was 13 nautical miles off the coast of Isla de Tortuga—territorial waters extend up to 12 miles. Also an unarmed cruise ship that takes no aggressive action cannot be an aggressor and commit “piracy” against an armed navy patrol boat. Finally, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre is a non-partisan agency that would have records of it giving Resolute permission to leave the scene.