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Monday, December 2nd 2002 - 20:00 UTC
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British Airways cuts flights; Buenos Aires invests in the cruise industry; Argentine natural gas for Uruguay; Joint war games; One fireman killed.

British Airways cuts flights

British Airways as of next March 30th. will eliminate the company's daily flight from Buenos Aires to London, but will keep the three weekly connections through Sao Paulo. The announcement was made official in London by Gwen Jones, BA Communications Director for Latinamerica and the Caribbean, arguing that the "Buenos Aires-London direct flight is no longer profitable". However Ms. Jones was quick to point out "this is a temporary measure, as conditions evolve we will assess the situation; a jump in costs since September 11th., the drop in ticket sales and the Argentine currency devaluation have had a direct impact in our decision". BA is undergoing worldwide a severe restructuring program to recover profitability that includes a further redundancy of 5,000 jobs by March 2004. Costs so far have been reduced 14,3% and in the last quarter BA recorded 383 million US dollars in earnings. Gabriela Strochetti BA Commercial Manager in Buenos Aires said that business has ceased to fall, "and now things have began to gradually pick up so we're programming on an 85% occupancy". Nevertheless Ms. Strochetti said air rates in the coming months are bound to increase and "BA will concentrate in the high income bracket with cabin beds and improved conditions in executive class for South American clients". Ms. Jones finally pointed out that BA "does not operate in the red", but "our commitment is to remain in Argentina and for the near future we will continue with the three weekly Boeing 777 flights to London connecting in Sao Paulo".

Buenos Aires invests in the cruise industry

In the 1997 summer 26 cruise vessels visited Buenos Aires, but this coming season 47, and an estimated 80,000 passengers are expected according to port authorities. Last season the cruise industry spent 18 million US dollars in Buenos Aires, but this coming season the sum is expected to reach 29 million US dollars. Argentine tourism experts estimate that a common foreign visitor in Buenos Aires spends 60 to 70 US dollars daily, however a cruise vessel visitor an average 169 US dollars, and this season, 2002/2003, they are expected to remain two days and a half instead of just 36 hours. Until 1996 the cruise industry was forced to manage as best as they could in Buenos Aires, but beginning '97 "the city rapidly organized itself sensing the potential of this booming industry", said Jorge Purciariello, Buenos Aires Deputy head of the Tourism Office. "We're planning a new cruise terminal since by 2005 we expect to receive 200,000 cruise visitors", added Mr. Purciaiello, "mostly from the United States and Brazil, but we also have Japanese, Europeans and Canadians". According to market surveys cruise visitors are interested in tango, shopping for quality leather goods, city tours, "with a strong non visible security structure", and given these conditions even venture to spend a couple of nights in local hotels before flying back home. The cruise industry has become so important for Buenos Aires that several shopping malls have contributed to the international promotion of the city, "and they even published 400,000 maps to distribute, in four different languages, which is a significant financial effort", indicated Mr. Purciariello. One of the first cruise vessels this season is the Silversea "Silver Shadow" that arrived in Buenos Aires over the weekend with 286 passengers. A 23,000 tons vessel built in 2000 it has seven decks and will be returning to Valparaíso sailing in the South Atlantic and Cape Horn.

Argentine natural gas for Uruguay

Uruguayan and Argentine presidents, Jorge Batlle and Eduardo Duhalde inaugurated last week the natural gas pipeline that will supply the south of Uruguay with Argentine energy. The 200 kilometers pipeline, of which 55 on the River Plate sea bed can transport 5,5 million cubic meters per day and will begin with a 3,5 million supply. The pipeline is a private undertaking Cruz del Sur with a 20% participation of the Uruguayan oil company Ancap; 40% British Gas; Pan American Energy 30%; and Wintershall 10%. The consortium invested 150 million US dollars in the pipeline with a thirty years concession. Natural gas distribution in Montevideo will be done by Gaz de France and in the rest of Uruguay by Conecta, a Spanish-Uruguayan company. However the Cruz del Sur operation is not the first pipeline, since 1998 the north of Uruguay receives Argentine natural gas through another pipeline. Actually the southern pipeline operation hasn't had a good start because a significant proportion of the natural gas was supposed to supply a new electricity generating plant that Uruguay has yet to build. But both presidents, caretaker Mr. Duhalde and a battered Mr. Batlle had time to praise bilateral links, to promise increased trade and announced new bridges between both countries. One of them to be constructed from Salto to Concordia across a huge shared dam in the river Uruguay; and a second the long standing project of a fifty kilometers bridge spanning across the River Plate from Colonia to Buenos Aires. However the Argentine Senate, with a majority of northern provinces representatives and not to convinced of Buenos Aires centralism, still has to approve the project.

Joint war games

Argentine military hosted, and in collaboration with British officers organized a war game last week in Buenos Aires for Latinamerican officers and diplomats interested in the Untied Nations peace missions. With over a hundred participants, the "Puma Azul" (Blue Puma) exercise was an attempt to solve conflicts in an imaginary country in Africa's east coast, Murof. The game involved learning all about Murof, geography, history, economy, political standing and the current conflict with civil war, human rights violations, hunger, an overall catastrophe. "Argentina has played a very important role in peace keeping operations for many years and we have collaborated with forces from this country with great success", pointed out British Ambassador Robin Christopher. The Puma Azul "game" was designed and created by the British Joint Staff Command. Representatives from twenty two Latinamerican countries were present at the peace seminar. General Evergisto de Vergara, currently Commander of the Argentine Fifth Corps in Bahía Blanca and with a long experience in United Nations peace keeping missions, including command over the British UN forces in Cyprus, was one of the main speakers at the seminar.

One fireman killed

One Uruguayan fireman killed and three in critical condition was the result of a fire that broke out in a Korean trawler undergoing repairs in a dry dock in Montevideo harbor. Sixty firemen were involved in the operation including two tugs that spent several hours cooling the main deck of "Ocean XI". Apparently the fire started in the engine room and rapidly spread given the amount of flammable material, solvents, fuel and ammoniac from the cold storage. The fireman was killed after an explosion dumped him into the hold of the vessel from where he was unable to climb out. Three others were seriously injured after inhaling toxic gases generated by several explosions. According to the Uruguayan fire brigade at moments temperature reached 500 Celsius. "Ocean XI" and three other Korean trawlers arrived in Montevideo from the South Atlantic last week. Fire experts and insurance surveyors are now trying to determine how the fire originated. Apparently there was a brawl among Korean crewmembers in the engine room minutes before the incident.

Categories: Mercosur.

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