Oil ignites Argentina-UK row

15Jan

Argentina has ramped up pressure on Britain over the Falkland Islands, warning it will take “adequate measures” to stop British oil exploration in contested waters.

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While Argentina said it was not talking about a repeat of the 1982 war with Britain over the resource-rich South Atlantic archipelago, it said London “shouldn’t be complacent”.

Britain sought to “unilaterally and illegitimately exploit natural reserves that belong to Argentina, and Argentina will take adequate measures to defend its interests and its rights,” Deputy Foreign Minister Victorio Taccetti said on Wednesday.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana will meet Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York next week to protest Britain’s plans, a ministry source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Buenos Aires is furious that London continues to skirt UN resolutions calling on both governments to renew a dialogue on the sovereignty of the Falklands.

Britain, meanwhile, said it was watching the Falkland Islands situation “closely,” but junior foreign minister Chris Bryant remained defiant, while stressing London’s desire to avoid any escalation.

“We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and we’re clear that the Falkland Islands government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters,” he said.

“The Falkland Islands territorial waters are controlled by the Islands’ authorities. We remain focussed on supporting the Falkland Islands government in developing legitimate business in its territory.”

Anger in Argentina over the islands, which has bubbled below the surface for much of the last three decades, has threatened to boil over as Britain prepares to launch drilling operations.

With oil prices steadily climbing again after last year’s global financial crisis, and recent advances in deepwater extraction technology, any big finds could mean a bonanza for whichever country owns them.

Current estimates put Falklands reserves at anywhere between eight billion and 60 billion barrels.

Argentina escalated the row on Tuesday by ordering all ships heading to the Falklands through its waters to first seek

permission from Buenos Aires.

Companies looking to prospect – including Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton through a partnership with Falkland Oil and Gas – need easy access to close ports to bring in heavy equipment and prepare rigs.

Argentina’s requirement that Falkland-bound ships ask permission is problematic for the companies because “the farther they have to go to get supplies, the harder and costlier it is,” Taccetti said.

A tug boat hauling a Scottish exploration rig is expected to arrive any day in the region to start oil prospecting.

The issue already came to a head earlier this month when Buenos Aires blocked a shipment of pipes it said was bound for the Falklands.

Argentine authorities boarded the foreign-flagged “Thor Leader” in the southern port of Campana after learning it was about to take on a cargo of pipes used in the oil industry and apparently destined for the Falklands.

Britain in January rejected Argentina’s latest claim to the islands, which it has held and occupied since 1833.

The two countries’ rival claims of ownership over the Falklands exploded into war in 1982 after Argentine military rulers seized the islands, only to be defeated and expelled by a British naval force.

The conflict lasted 74 days and cost the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers and 255 from Britain.

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