A Venezuelan navy patrol vessel sunk after repeatedly ramming an empty cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea on Monday.
The RCGS Resolute, a German-operated, Portuguese-flagged five-star cruise ship, was conducting routine engine maintenance 13.3 nautical miles off the Venezuelan island of Isla de Tortuga when it was approached by what has been identified by the ANBV Naiguatá shortly after midnight, the Resolute’s operating company said in a statement.
Crew members aboard the 262-foot Naiguatá questioned the 403-foot Resolute’s presence and intentions via radio and demanded it follow the naval ship to Puerto Moreno on the Isla De Margarita.
Columbia Cruise Services, the Resolute’s operating company, said in a statement on Wednesday that the master of the ship was attempting to confirm the order with headquarters, since it was in international waters, when the Naiguatá fired upon her, approached the starboard side and “purposely collided’ with the cruise vessel.
“The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters,” Columbia said.
While the Resolute suffered only minor damage, the Naiguatá apparently incurred major failures, began to take on water and eventually sank.
Columbia said it alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Curacao and remained on station for an hour to assist in any needed rescue of the 44-member crew of the Naiguatá, which never responded to any attempts to contact it, Columbia said.
The MRCC gave the Resolute permission to continue its voyage, and it has docked in Willemstad. Columbia speculated that the littoral vessel Naiguatá suffered damage when it struck the Resolute’s reinforced bulbous bow.
The ship is a “purpose built polar expedition vessel,” according to the website of its former owner One Ocean Expeditions. It is designed for Antarctic cruises.
Venezuelan authorities have disputed this version of events, according to The Drive. Venezuelan authorities claimed the Resolute acted “in a cowardly and criminal manner fled collision site and didn’t try to rescue the crew of sinking ship.”
Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino also described the cruise ship’s actions as an “act of imperial aggression” and “piracy.”
The incident was the second major international incident in a week for the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.
On March 26, the U.S. government indicted Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” the latest escalation of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against the socialist leader.
The State Department offered a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro, who has been in power since 2013.
Attorney General William Barr announced the charges against Maduro, who already faces U.S. sanctions and has been the target of a U.S. effort aimed at pushing him from power.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)