Falkland Islands: First it was sovereignty, now it's oil

Ministry of Defence steps up surveillance of Argentinian navy as tensions escalate over black gold

The British military and the Foreign Office are stepping up surveillance of Argentinian naval action following the threat from Buenos Aires to blockade the Falkland Islands.

The imminent arrival of a British company’s oil rig in the area is an immediate source of friction between the two countries, which has reignited 28 years after the war with the discovery of rich petroleum and gas reserves around the islands.

The Argentinian government has declared that it was taking control of all shipping between its coastline and the disputed islands it calls Islas Malvinas and the adjoining South Georgia, a claim promptly rejected by the UK.

Buenos Aires has demanded that the Falklands should suspend oil exploration on the seabed, which is estimated to contain 60 billion barrels of oil

– indicating that it has reserves on the scale of the North Sea. Last week Argentina detained a supply ship, the Thor Leader, which was transporting pipes to the islands from an Argentinian port.

The oil rig, the Ocean Guardian, is said to have been “buzzed” by Argentinian warplanes on its way to the South Atlantic, although other reports say that it may have been coastguard aircraft which was involved. Anibal Fernandez, the chef de cabinet in Buenos Aireas, said: “Any boat that wants to travel between ports on the Argentinian mainland to the Islas Malvinas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands… must first ask for permission from the Argentinian government.”

Following the 1982 war, an “economic zone” of 200 nautical miles was established around the Falklands. British military and diplomatic sources have stated that any attempt by the Argentinians to stop the rig in these waters would be in breach of international law.

They also pointed out that the Ocean Guardian was registered in the US and the detention of its crew would make Buenos Aires answerable for its action to Washington as well as Britain.

The British military maintains a force of 1,076 soldiers, and a small number of warplanes on the Falklands and there is a flotilla of ships offshore including, at present, the Type 42 frigate HMS York. The aircraft are on 15 minutes’ notice to fly.

A defence source said yesterday: “The Thor Leader was stopped at an Argentinian port. The rig will be sailing in international waters and any attempt to interfere with it would be in breach of international law and we have the forces available and ready in the region to address that problem if that is what the Government wants us to do.”

Earlier this week Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, the head of the Royal Air Force, drew attention to the situation in the South Atlantic in a speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) referred to “ the increasingly tense situation around the Falkland Islands” to stress the need for maintaining air superiority.

The Parliamentary all-party group on the Falklands yesterday called for Argentina’s ambassador in London to be censured over the actions of his government. The secretary of the group, the Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, said: “Any attempt by Argentina to claim any sort of rights of sovereignty over the region is something we should take very seriously. I don’t think we should appease Buenos Aires – we found out last time what happens when we do that.”

Another member of the group, his fellow Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton, said: “They are trying to impede the economic progress of the Falkland Islands, because of course the encouragement of hydrocarbon exploration in the area is am important part of achieving a sustainable future for the islands.”

It is widely accepted the that Argentinian military does not have the capabilities to carry out another invasion of the islands, which are, in any case, far better defended now than they were three decades ago.

However, harassment of supply ships and the refusal to let them use Argentinian ports for supplies would significantly add to the cost for oil companies and, some analysts believe, this could be a tool to force the UK and the Falkland Islands to come to a deal with Buenos Aires.

There is also apprehension among some in Argentina that the situation may lead to the rejuvenation of the extreme right-wing in the country, which had been dormant since the fall of the military dictatorship.

Frederico Thomsen, a political analyst in Buenos Aires, said: “For centuries the Falklands were about some sheep, penguins and fish – and even so, we had a war. Should someone find ‘black gold’, things will get uncomfortable and nationalists will be stirred.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick