THE planned increased use of containers for the shipment of fish, meat and wool received a blow this week with the news that the Islands’ only shipping service to South America is to end.
Hamish Wylie, one of the directors of the South Amercian Atlantic Service Ltd (SAAS) container shipping company currently running between the Falklands and Rio Grande in Brazil made the shock announcement in a letter sent to clients this week.
Mr Wylie, who also is a director of SAAS parent company, Consolidated Fisheries Ltd, is convinced pressure has been put on the company’s shipping partners to ensure the Falkland Islands fishing industry cannot develop any further.
Unacceptably high shipping costs caused, Mr Wylie believes, by pressure being exerted on companies who also operate in Argentina, have resulted in a failure to secure the volumes of cargo necessary to maintain the service, which the company has announced will be withdrawn at the end of June.
Stuart Wallace of Fortuna Ltd, who have already in the past containerised the whole of one ship’s catch and had planned to increase this volume, described the ending of the SAAS service as “a really very serious development for the whole of the Falklands economy.”
The recently published Economic Strategy lists connectivity with South America as essential for the Islands’ future economic development.
Argentina’s systematic policy of interference with shipping between the Falkland Islands and Latin America culminated most recently in the Presidential Decree 256/10 which requires all shipping bound for the Falklands to seek permission from the Argentine Government.
Although “operational reasons” were cited, it seems clear that fear that the SAAS charter vessel Anja might face detention under the terms of the decree caused it to take a route around Cape Horn in its last voyage from Punta Arenas to Stanley.
After a period of uncertainty when the SAAS contract with the Anja came to an end, a new vessel, Scout, was chartered and a new route established between Stanley and Rio Grande in Brazil. The original SAAS service between Stanley, Montevideo in Uruguay and Punta Arenas in Southern Chile was then abandoned.
Decree 256/10 was declared “not compliant with international law including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” by the British Government in a note verbale delivered to the Argentine Chargé d’Affaires in London.
The decree also appears to be in direct contravention of a 1984 “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” between Chile and Argentina with respect to the Straits of Magellan. The implementation of Decree 256/10 is left to the Argentine Coast Guard, but their response has not yet been put to the test.
Mr Wylie said that while he could understand the unwillingness of the Falkland Islands Government to continue to subsidise the SAAS route – they recently and controversially made SAAS an unsecured loan of £1m – he felt that despite the fact that our foreign relations were the province of the British Government, the time had come for FIG to take a more proactive stance in revealing to the world the extent of the victimisation that the Islands were suffering at the hands of the Argentines.
The Legislative Assembly member with the Fisheries portfolio, Councillor Gavin Short, described the ending of the SAAS service as “a very worrying development.” He told the Penguin News he was sure it would be the subject of discussions with his colleagues, adding that it was “sad to see it stop.”
Asked whether the Assembly had given any thought to challenging Decree 256/10, Cllr Short said the problem was that the government did not now own a ship of its own, and the owners of other ships were understandably very nervous by the mere mention of a threat.
With the SAAS service gone, the fate of a container lay-down park still under construction close to FIPASS must hang in the balance.
Estimated to be going to cost a further £175,000 over its original £945,000 budget, the work is being done by PWD, with assistance in the concrete work provided by Morrisons and equipment to be provided by CFL.
By John Fowler – Penguin News - Stanley