Argentina has threatened oil firms who wish to operate off the Falkland Islands with 15-year jail terms, fines and confiscations in a fresh salvo in the dispute with Britain over sovereignty.
Its London embassy announced the Argentine Congress has passed new laws to punish exploration it believes breeches a United Nations resolution.
The Foreign Office has argued the activities were “wholly legitimate and legal” and entirely under the control of the Government of the island - a British overseas territory.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Hydrocarbons activities by any company operating on the continental shelf of the Falkland Islands are regulated by legislation of the Falkland Islands Government, in strict accordance with the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
“The UK Government unequivocally supports the right of the Falkland Islanders to develop their natural resources for their own economic benefit.
“Argentine domestic law does not apply to the Falkland Islands or South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which are UK overseas territories.”
Islanders voted in March by 1,513 to three to remain a British overseas territory in a referendum but Argentina has since hiked up its claim over the territory at the UN.
Buenos Aires has issued repeated written legal notices to firms warning them they face administrative, civil and criminal action for operating off the islands - which Argentina calls Las Malvinas.
In a statement, the embassy said the new law “provides for prison sentences for the duration of up to 15 years; fines equivalent to the value of 1.5 million barrels of oil; the banning of individuals and companies from operating in Argentina; and the confiscation of equipment and any hydrocarbons that would have been illegally extracted.
“The Argentine Government has protested against and rejected all of the United Kingdom's attempts to promote and authorize such hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities in the area of the Argentine continental shelf.” it said.
“These attempts are manifestly contrary to Resolution 31/49 of the United Nations General Assembly, which requires the UK and Argentina to refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications into the situation of the Malvinas Islands while the sovereignty dispute between the two countries is still pending.”
Additional reporting by PA