Argentina has launched a naval campaign to isolate the Falkland Islands that has seen it detain Spanish fishing vessels on suspicion of breaking the country’s “blockade” of the seas around the British territories.
By Fergus MacErlean
8:28PM GMT 05 Dec 2011
Argentine patrol vessels have boarded 12 Spanish boats, operating under fishing licences issued by the Falkland Islands, for operating “illegally” in disputed waters in recent weeks.
Argentine patrol commanders carrying out interceptions near the South American coast told Spanish captains they were in violation of Argentina’s “legal” blockade of sea channels to the Falklands.
The warning has been backed up in a letter to Aetinape, the Spanish fishing vessels association from the Argentine embassy in Madrid warning boats in the area that “Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and adjoining maritime spaces are an integral part of the Argentine territory.”
The confrontation strategy targetting foreign boats marks an escalation of tensions in seas that Duke of Cambridge, a Flight Lieutenant with the RAF, is set to patrol during a tour of duty last year.
The Duke is to be deployed to the Falklands next February as part of a routine training duties. Commanders would face the dilemma of despatching the Royal to take part in an operations to monitor or contain the Argentine challenge.
President Cristina Kirchner has adopted a steadily more beligerent stance towards Britain’s South Atlantic possessions.
A newly formed gathering of South American nations meeting in Venezeula backed Argentina’s sovereignty demands at the weekend.
Argentina’s claim over the Falklands was backed by a newly formed block of South American and Caribbean countries, CELAC, on Saturday with unanimous approval. Mrs Kirchner used the last UN General Assembly meeting to put Argentina’s claims of sovereignty over the Falklands on a par with Palestinian claims to statehood.
But it is the Falklands economic lifeline that has been most affected by Argentinian manoeurving.
It announced permits were required by all ships using Argentine waters en route to the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, all of which are UK controlled.
Argentina declared vessels were “operating illegally” in the South Atlantic if they did not request permission to enter Argentine waters. The authorities declared their willingness “to put an end to all those illegal fishing activities”.
The vessels, from Galicia, were boarded as they were making their way across the huge Rio de la Plata estuary, which separates Argentina and Uruguay, before off-loading their catches in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Mrs Kirchner, 58, has also threatened to suspend a vital Falklands air link — the only one off the islands — which was established in a 1999 deal between the UK and Argentina unless Britain entered into talks leading to sovereignty negotiations.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain had lodged an official complaint about the Argentine action. “We are aware that Argentina has recently challenged vessels transiting between the Falklands and the port of Montevideo,” the spokesman said. “The UK has protested to Argentina. We consider that it is not compliant with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Mike Summers, a member of the Falkland Islands legislative assembly, said Argentina was trying to cut the Islands off from the South American mainland. “The Falkland Islands Government has no doubt about its right to issue licenses to foreign companies to fish in its waters,” he said. “There have been other difficulties in recent months with Falklands flagged vessels seeking to use South American ports; Argentina seeks to prevail on its neighbours to implement its foreign policy for it, by denying access to their ports for vessels doing business in the Falklands.”