The Buenos Aires media is reporting a potential incident situation in South Georgia waters which could erupt into something more complicated from the moment the Argentine research vessel ‘Eduardo Holmberg’ has been involved in scientific activities in a zone which last year was declared by the UK as a Maritime Protected Area, MPA, and which Argentina does not recognize since it considers it ‘an area in dispute’.
The presentation of the issue says that “the Argentine government has started a scientific research campaign in adjoining and coastal waters of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands which together with the Malvinas are part of the sovereignty dispute with the UK. The Foreign Ministry initiative together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries looks to consolidate the presence (of Argentina) under the umbrella of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR”
Because Argentina and Britain are full members of CCAMLR, the government of President Cristina Fernandez sent a letter to CCAMLR announcing the scientific research cruise in the South Georgia South Sandwich Islands area, which as is the norm was then distributed to its members.
But the notification allegedly triggered a letter from Jane Rumble, head of Polar Regions Desk in the Foreign Office to CCAMLR chairperson Andrew Wright, in which the UK expresses its surprise and disappointment with Argentina’s notification procedure, “since Argentina did not have the courtesy of previously communicating us regarding the research it was about to begin in our jurisdictional waters”.
According to the Buenos Aires media the research cruise from INIDEP (Argentina’s National Fisheries Research and Development Institute) left Mar del Plata last 26 April and is currently off the west coast of South Georgia involved in the “Study on the situation of marine biology resources in the sub-area 48.3 and its links with the Weddell-Scotia Confluence”. The study is in combination with the Argentine Antarctic Institute. The cruise is expected to last a month and collect all the data possible on the condition of demersal species along the sea bed.
However since the imposition by the UK of the one million square kilometres MPA surrounding South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, “there are zones banned for fishing and UK attributed itself the right to regulate and issue fishing licences”, says the Argentine media.
According to Ms Rumble from the Polar Regions Desk, the area is under the jurisdiction of “the government from South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands” and as such under Falkland Islands governor Nigel Haywood mandate, and warns “that in the MPA the use of deep trawling nets is banned as well as any other fisheries related activities in some areas including the 12 nautical miles surrounding Georgia, Shag Rocks and Clarke Rocks, unless a specific permission has been issued”.
However here is the interesting part: “in an attempt to show that Argentina effectively requested the authorization, (which since Argentina as full member of CCALMR does need such a licence), Governor Haywood effectively extended Permit WPA/2013/011, stating that ‘following on Section 21 of the Protected Areas Ordinance, I hereby authorize the fisheries research vessel Eduardo Holmberg to proceed with the scientific research notified to CCALMR on 12 February 2013’”.
But the Malvinas Desk from the Argentine Foreign Office rejected point blank the British authorization, since the Islands are under British domain but “their sovereignty is in dispute in the UN, besides the fact they are scientific research activities from a CCALMR full member and oriented to the conservation of the Antarctic ecosystem”.
According to the Argentine version of events published in Buenos Aires, Ms Rumble concluded stating that “the Argentine notification does not give precise details about the research operation area. We would feel extremely disappointed if they choose to ignore the potential damage to the most vulnerable zones surrounding South Georgia with the activities proposed for the research and we would expect they contact us to guarantee that it can be considered a wide-ranging environmental survey”.
The Foreign Office official asked chairperson Wright to have the text distributed among CCALMR full members.