The UK has protested to Argentina over its interception of Falkland Islands-licensed fishing boats, mainly Spanish in disputed South Atlantic waters and in the River Plate when they approach the port of Montevideo.
Earlier in the week the Spanish government expressed ‘concern’ about what was happening to the Vigo-based Spanish fishing fleet in the South Atlantic and promised to collect the pertinent information to address the issue with Argentine authorities.
Last year, Argentina passed a decree (256) requiring ships sailing between the Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to obtain permission to pass through Argentine jurisdictional waters and has proceeded to intercept Falklands flagged or licensed vessels.
In a statement on Tuesday the Foreign Office said: Although we are aware that Argentina has recently challenged vessels transiting between the Falklands and the port of Montevideo – purportedly under Argentine Decree 256, we are not aware of any vessel that has been fined or individual that arrested.
The UK has protested to Argentina, and has firmly rejected Decree 256. We consider that it is not compliant with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
UNCLOS provides for ships of all States to enjoy the right of innocent passage through territorial seas. The UK is clear that no vessel needs to comply with Argentine Decree 256 when transiting Argentine waters. However, decision is ultimately a matter for ships’ owners” said the Foreign Office.
In the latest series of incidents Argentine patrol boats intercepted radio communications of Spanish fishing vessels operating with Falkland Islands licences and asked for information from the captain.
On a number of occasions in recent months the Argentine Coast Guard and Navy have challenged boats travelling between the Falklands and the port of Montevideo in Uruguay said Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, Mike Summers.
They hail the boats and ask them for information such as the passport number of the captain, possibly trying to warn them off.” However interceptions had not led to a disruption of trade.
“The Falkland Islands Government has no doubt about its right to issue licences to foreign companies to fish in its waters” underlined MLA Summers.
The Galicia based association of fishing vessel, Aetinape, in a letter to the Spanish government complained of at least twelve incidents in the last few months and the fact that to avoid the Argentine harassment, fishing vessels heading to Montevideo to unload and replenish provisions and fuel are forced to long detours, costly in time and money.
Likewise some have complained that they were intercepted when approaching the port of Montevideo in the River Plate, which is shared by Argentina and Uruguay.
In reply to a similar letter, the Argentine embassy in Madrid admitted vessels were being intercepted and argued that this was because those Spanish vessels or with ‘Spanish capital’ were “illegally fishing” in Argentine waters, spelt out clearly by stating that “Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and adjoining maritime spaces are integral part of Argentine territory”.
For Argentina the Spanish fishing vessels are committing a double offence, “illegally fishing in Argentine waters” (with the wrong licence issued by the Falklands government) and violating a “legal” blockade of sea channels to the Falklands.
As part of that ‘blockade’ policy President Cristina Fernandez addressing the UN General Assembly last September threatened to suspend the Falklands air link with Chile, set up in a deal between the UK and Argentina in 1999, unless Britain enters talks about the sovereignty of the Islands.
Last Saturday, CELAC, a newly formed block of South American and Caribbean countries in its final resolution, specifically backed Argentina’s claim to the Falklands/Malvinas Islands and called for UK/Argentina sovereignty talks.