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Argentina closes ports to ships visiting Falklands

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 17 -- Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez, intent on increasing tension over oil exploration in the South Atlantic, has signed a government decree restricting the movement of vessels between the Argentine mainland and the Falkland Islands, also known as Las Malvinas.

“Every ship or vessel intending to transit between ports located on the Argentine mainland and ports located in the Malvinas, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands, or through Argentine waters toward the latter, and/or loading goods to be transported directly or indirectly between these ports must request prior authorization by the competent national authority,” the decree stated.

Fernandez’s decree follows last week’s detention of a ship by Argentine authorities, who claimed the vessel had already visited the Falkland Islands and was loading a fresh cargo of oil pipes for a return visit—a claim rejected by Techint, which said the steel tubes were for customers in the Mediterranean (OGJ Online, Feb. 12, 2010).

The president’s chief of staff Anibal Fernandez said the government announcement was accompanied by the creation of a new commission comprised of various ministries to oversee and coordinate the actions needed to fulfill the decree. The commission includes officials from the foreign and defense ministries, along with others from Customs, and Ports and Waterways.

The aim of the commission is to develop a registry with statistical data of vessel movements in the area and cross them with ship activities both in the UK and the Falklands. The commission is also assessing the legal framework and the commercial impact of the enforcement of such measures.

Respect for international law, said Anibal Fernandez, “obliges us to defend the interests of the Argentines, to take such decisions that allow us to go to a point that guarantees not only the defense of sovereignty but of all the resources that may exist” in the islands.

Apart from the new decree, the Argentine ministry of foreign affairs also is reported to have adopted a strategy aimed at creating a framework of insecurity for all of the so-called “illegal” activities in the disputed area which are geared to exploit what the Argentineans refer to as “our” resources.

“Offshore oil drilling is a very high risk operation and if a sense of insecurity can be injected, it should further discourage the enterprise,” said one Argentinean official.

Exploration operations are set to begin next week with the arrival of the Ocean Guardian oil rig. British authorities have already expressed concerns that Buenos Aires will seek to disrupt the movement of the vessel into the waters surrounding the Falklands.

That idea took on further weight this week as local media reported that the Argentine defense ministry is tracking the rig’s course and has supplied the foreign ministry with pictures of the “floating platform” being towed just south of the Uruguayan coastline.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.


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