Uruguay has banned the docking of Falklands/Malvinas flagged vessel in the port of Montevideo, following on complaints from Argentina that several fishing vessels with that flag, in recent months had been operating from Montevideo.
According to Uruguayan government sources President Jose Mujica wants to rapidly deactivate two possible sources of conflict with Argentina: the arrival of Falklands/Malvinas flagged vessels to Montevideo and the dredging of the Martin Garcia channel in the River Plate which is crucial for Uruguay’s main grains and oilseed export port in Nueva Palmira.
After almost two years of courting, Mujica managed to reverse the acrimonious relation of his predecessor (Tabare Vazquez) with the Kirchner couple and among other things ended the dispute over the Botnia-UPM pulp mill and obtained a promise from Cristina Fernandez for making the Martin Garcia canal deeper.
Apparently in the last few months three Falklands flagged vessels called in Montevideo and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported them to Uruguay, expressing “deep disappointment” with Montevideo’s attitude.
President Mujica on being informed instructed port of Montevideo authorities to ban access to all Falklands flagged vessels and those in transit to the disputed Islands over which Argentina claims sovereignty.
The head of the Port of Montevideo authority Carlos Díaz, following on Mujica’s instructions, ordered an investigation into the claims, but in a primary report said that “we haven’t identified any Falklands flagged vessel docked or to have docked in Montevideo”.
“Yes we are aware to the possibility of that happening with a Falklands flagged vessel but we have not identified any such vessel nor has the Uruguayan Coast Guard”, said Diaz.
“We check international registries and flags of origin” he added. “Anyhow from now onwards we are going to double check all flags”.
Industry sources in Montevideo admitted that fishing vessels from different countries call in Montevideo and some of them use the flag of Malvinas as a ‘convenience flag’. This has been happening for decades and “there is no law to impede doing so”.
In 2006 in the midst of the conflict over the Botnia pulp mill Argentina put on the table another Uruguayan “grievance”: the fact that Falklands’ flagged vessels call into the port of Montevideo adding that “since January 2005 a total of 64 Falklands flagged vessels have docked in Montevideo”.
Uruguay’s position regarding the Falklands/Malvinas dispute, and in particular from President Mujica, has been that of full support for Argentina. However this has not impeded long established trade and travel with the Falklands.
However on this specific occasion the issue again surfaced because of differences regarding the dredging of the Martin Garcia channel. Apparently Uruguay wants to extend the contract of the company currently doing the upkeep of the canal until the deeper dredging actually begins which demands the conclusion of the bidding process.
The issue according to Uruguayan sources was brought up by Foreign Affairs minister Hector Timerman with Mujica in the recent Celac summit in Venezuela.
The current upkeep contract ends in January and if all goes according to the bidding timetable the deep dredging should begin September 2012. The Argentine government allegedly wants that company out and will not extend its contract.
The River Plate is jointly managed by Argentina and Uruguay, through a bilateral commission CARP, which oversees among other issues the upkeep of the Martin Garcia canal which serves the Uruguayan coast and the Canal Mitre that leads directly to Buenos Aires and obviously is regularly dredged.
Interests linked to the port of Buenos Aires and Rosario on the Parana River, the hub of soybean territory, are not interested in seeing Uruguay’s Nueva Palmira flourish and have consistently lobbied against dredging Martin Garcia.
According to the Uruguayan delegates at CARP, the terms of the bid to dredge the Martin Garcia channel have attracted the interest of four companies and it’s up to the Argentine delegates of the commission to consider them before the contract is awarded.
“We are waiting for a decision from the Argentine side” said Uruguayan delegates in CARP.
This basically seems to be another chapter of that rivalry of powerful interests at work, decorated with the Malvinas dispute, demanded solidarity and blockade to the Falklands.
Nevertheless if Mujica’s instructions are strict the measure could also impact on the cruise industry since the vessels visit Uruguayan ports (Montevideo, Punta del Este), Argentine ports and most of them call in the Falklands.
Likewise Montevideo port authorities anticipated that another situation could surface in the near future when a British scientific vessel, (not identified) already authorized to call in Montevideo, and which most certainly will be visiting the Falklands, sails into the River Plate.