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Washington (AFP) – Five U.S. citizens are among the crew of a U.S.-operated oil exploration ship that Venezuela detained in a border dispute with Guyana, the State Department said late Sunday.

“We are aware of reports that five U.S. citizens are among the crew members detained by Venezuelan authorities aboard the Panamanian-flagged ship Teknik Perdana,” a State Department spokesperson told AFP.

“Due to privacy concerns, we cannot comment further at this time,” said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday that a navy warship intercepted and detained the oil exploration ship, sent from Guyana, in disputed waters off its coast.

The Teknik Perdana was “carrying out illegal activities” within an ocean border area claimed by Caracas.

Guyana earlier said that the ship was intercepted Thursday as it explored off the coast of Esequiba, a 159,500 square kilometer border region rich in natural resources that Venezuela has claimed since 1897.

The ship, contracted to Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, was sent under escort to Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

The Guyana statement said the Teknik Perdana had been conducting a multi-beam survey of the seafloor when it was stopped, and insisted that the ship did not stray from Guyanese waters.

In late August, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Guyanese counterpart, Donald Ramotar, said that moves towards resolving their territorial dispute were “going well,” and that they would continue to seek help from United Nations mediators to solve the conflict.

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