Britain said it will divert a Royal Navy warship to waters off Guyana, after a long-simmering territorial dispute between the South American ally and Venezuela recently flared again.
The British patrol vessel, HMS Trent, will arrive in the region later this month to conduct “engagements,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
It follows escalating tensions after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro renewed his country’s century-old claim to Guyana’s oil-rich Essequibo region.
However, the South American neighbors agreed earlier this month not to resort to force to settle the dispute.
In a brief statement, Britain’s MoD said: “HMS Trent will visit regional ally and Commonwealth partner Guyana later this month as part of a series of engagements in the region during her Atlantic patrol task deployment.”
The vessel is in Barbados over Christmas and will then head to waters off the mainland of Guyana, according to reports.
The ship is not expected to dock in Georgetown, its capital, because the port is too shallow, the BBC said.
The first to report on the deployment, the broadcaster said it was intended as “a show of diplomatic and military support for the former British colony.”
A UK foreign minister, David Rutley, visited Guyana earlier this month and reiterated sovereign borders “must be respected” and that London would work internationally “to ensure the territorial integrity of Guyana is upheld.”
Caracas has long claimed Essequibo, which makes up about two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, and has ratcheted up its rhetoric over it in recent months.
It followed Guyana, which has governed the area for more than 100 years, issuing licenses for oil companies to operate there.
The flare-up has raised fears in the region of a potential conflict over the remote area of 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles).
Maduro’s government held a controversial referendum on December 3 in which 95 percent of voters, according to officials in the hard-line leftist government, supported declaring Venezuela the rightful owner of Essequibo.
He has since started legal maneuvers to create a Venezuelan province in Essequibo and ordered the state oil company to issue licenses for extracting crude in the region.
Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali has branded the moves as a “grave threat to international peace and security.”