Thursday, February 18, 2010

Falkland Islands: First it was sovereignty, now it's oil.

I remember well my reaction to the news that Argentina had invaded the Falkland islands; I wondered what the Argentinians could possibly want with an island in the North Sea. Like many Brits, until the invasion I had never heard of the Falklands, and imagined that they must be somewhere around the Shetlands.

And, as someone who has never been comfortable with our colonial past, I was puzzled as to why we should own an island 300 miles off the south American coast.

We famously went to war to retain these islands, and to ensure Margaret Thatcher's political career, but the battle over who actually owns this place is certain to heat up with the discovery that there might be rich petroleum and gas reserves around the islands.

The Argentinian government has declared that it was taking control of all shipping between its coastline and the disputed islands it calls Islas Malvinas and the adjoining South Georgia, a claim promptly rejected by the UK.

Buenos Aires has demanded that the Falklands should suspend oil exploration on the seabed, which is estimated to contain 60 billion barrels of oil – indicating that it has reserves on the scale of the North Sea. Last week Argentina detained a supply ship, the Thor Leader, which was transporting pipes to the islands from an Argentinian port.

The oil rig, the Ocean Guardian, is said to have been “buzzed” by Argentinian warplanes on its way to the South Atlantic, although other reports say that it may have been coastguard aircraft which was involved. Anibal Fernandez, the chef de cabinet in Buenos Aireas, said: “Any boat that wants to travel between ports on the Argentinian mainland to the Islas Malvinas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands must first ask for permission from the Argentinian government.”

Following the 1982 war, an “economic zone” of 200 nautical miles was established around the Falklands. British military and diplomatic sources have stated that any attempt by the Argentinians to stop the rig in these waters would be in breach of international law.

The last war for these islands involved the rights of the Falklands inhabitants to remain British whilst living as far away from Britain as it was possible to be. If oil and gas deposits are found there both the British and the Argentinian governments will have even more reason to demand that the islands are theirs.

Frederico Thomsen, a political analyst in Buenos Aires, said: “For centuries the Falklands were about some sheep, penguins and fish – and even so, we had a war. Should someone find ‘black gold’, things will get uncomfortable and nationalists will be stirred.”

If oil and gas deposits are found off the coast of the Falklands, then this whole sorry business might very well begin again.

Click here for full article.

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