Argentina declared war on Falkland Islands oil reserves

Argentina declared war on Falkland Islands oil reserves

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Argentine forces patrolling in Falkland Islands during a surprise invasion on 2nd April 1982 (2) Argentine POWs at Port Staley on 17th June 1982 (3) British recapture of the Falkland Islands outlined in a map (4) British sailors of HMS Cardiff dressed in Anti flash hood carrying gas respirators in June 1982 (5) British type 21 frigate HMS Antelope smoking after being hit by bombers on 23rd May 1982

Argentines call Falkland Islands ‘Islas Malvinas’. The Spanish name is the translation of the French name ‘Iles Maluines’. The history of the islands goes back over five hundred years. Colonization & active exploration of the island took place in the 18th century and Falkland Islands have been an element of controversy as the French, British, Spaniards & Argentines have claimed the islands at different times.

Though the Europeans found the Falkland Islands uninhabited when discovered, recent discoveries of wooden canoe and arrowheads in Lafonia in East Falkland indicates that southern American indigenous people, the Yaghan may have lived in the islands before the arrival of Europeans. Evidences are there that an uncharted Portuguese expedition prior to Magellan’s expedition first discovered the islands. In 1522, Falkland Islands were shown in Portuguese cartographer Pedro Reinel’s map.

British explorer John Davis took refuge in the islands during a severe storm while trying to find another expedition ship near southern Argentina on 9th August 1592. Several names were given to the islands by Englishman Richard Hawkins and then a Dutchman Sebald de Weert. English captain John Strong named the channel between the two major portions of the islands as ‘Falkland Channel’ in 1690.

In 1764, a colony was established by France on East Falkland and that’s when the island was given the French name ‘Iles Maluines’. In 1765, unaware of the French establishment, British Captain John Byron explored the West Falkland and claimed the Falklands islands as British territory on the grounds of former discovery. A permanent British settlement was established in the West Falkland the next year by Captain John MacBride.

France agreed to leave East Falkland in 1766 after the Spanish complained French presence in a territory the Spanish considered their own. Spain also agreed to compensate the French admiral Louis Bougainville who had spent from his own pocket to establish the French settlement. Spain took the East Falkland in 1767.

The first Falkland crisis was sparked when Spanish commander Don Ignacio brought 1400 soldiers in five armed ships from Argentina and forced the British to leave West Falkland on 10th June 1770. The crisis continued till 22nd January 1771. Spain & Britain almost engaged in war during this period.

During the buildup of American Independence War, in 1774, British Government decided to disengage itself from a number of overseas colonies. British forces left Port Egmont in West Falkland on 20th May 1776 but left a plaque proclaiming continuing British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. British sealers used West Falkland as a base for the next 4 years, until Spanish authorities forced them to leave in 1780 as part of Spain’s order to destroy the British colony.

Spain ruled the Falkland Islands from Buenos Aires until 1811. Due to Peninsular War from 1807 to 1814 and increasing independence movement by its South American colonies, Spain was forced to withdraw from the islands in 1811. Like the British did 35 years ago, the Spanish also left a plaque asserting sovereignty of Spain over the islands.

14 crew of British ship Isabella, which had wrecked near East Falkland, were stranded in the islands on 8th February 1813. British brig-rigged warship Nancy was sent to rescue the survivors. An American sealer Nanina spotted presence of Isabella’s crew on the islands on 5th April 1813. Barnard dined with crew of Isabella and found that they were unaware of the War of 1812. Technically U.K. & U.S. were at war with each other back then.

But Barnard was willing to rescue the survivors. But while gathering resources from the islands, crew of Isabella seized Nanina and marooned Barnard and three of his crewmen on the islands. After 18 months he was rescued by another British ship ‘Indispensable’ that intentionally went to search for Barnard & his crew. In 1829, Barnard published a book about his survival.

American colonel David Jewett, a privateer working for ‘United Provinces of the Río de la Plata’ (modern day Argentina’s predecessor), stated that his frigate of 50 ships would take possessions over Spain’s islands in the South Atlantic according to Buenos Aires’ 1816 claim. However Jewett could not establish his authority over the islands and there were little emigration from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands.

Argentine citizen with German descent, Luis Vernet was granted the Falkland Islands by the United Provinces Government in 1828 and was made civil & military commandant of the islands on 10th June 1829. British Consulate in Buenos Aires lodged a protest against these moves. A dispute over hunting & fishing rights resulted in a raid by American sail ship USS Lexington that ended Vernet’s venture in 1831. Buenos Aires Government commissioned Major Esteban to set up Falkland Islands as a penal colony on 15th November 1832. To exile prisoners in a separate place, a penal colony is used. But Esteban’s soldiers mutinied & murdered him.

Britain sent Captain James Onslow with HMS Clio and he arrived on 3rd January 1833 and British flag flew on the islands after representative of Buenos Aires left the islands as huge number crew of the Buenos Aires’ representative were British mercenaries who did not want to fight Captain Onslow. Since then, Governments of Argentina regularly protested against Britain officially.

In 1840, Falkland Islands became a Crown Colony of British empire officially and a few Scotsmen & a governor also arrived to establish a pastoral settlement of British Empire. In December 1914 during WWI, Britain achieved a massive naval victory over Germany in the battle of Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Royal Navy of British Commonwealth was victorious against Nazi German Navy Kriegsmarine during WWII in the same waters.

Argentine President Juan Peron wanted to buy the Falkland Islands in 1953 from the British government, but was rejected as ‘inconceivable’ by Britain. The sovereignty disputes intensified in the 1960s. Negotiations between Argentina & U.K. failed and Argentina invaded the islands on 2nd April 1982. The war ended on 14th June 1982.

Britain faced the logistic difficulties of operating a war from 8,000 miles away from home. British merchant ships carried 95 aircrafts, 100,000 tons of freight, 9,000 personnel and 400,000 tons of fuel. U.S. forces provided 40,000 tons aviation fuel for British fighter aircrafts. The whole task force comprised of 43 Royal Navy ships, 62 merchant ships & 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. Initially British forces had 28 Sea Harrier aircrafts & 14 Harrier GR.3s aircrafts available for air operations against approximately 122 serviceable jet fighters of Air Force of Argentina during the war.

The 74 days long conflict resulted in a British victory. 649 Argentine soldiers were killed with 1,657 more wounded and 11,313 were taken prisoners. Argentina also lost 1 submarine, 1 cruiser, 4 cargo ships, 2 patrol boats, 1 spy trawler, 25 helicopters, 2 bombers, 35 fighters, 25 COIN aircrafts, 4 transport aircrafts and 9 armed trainer aircrafts. 255 British soldiers were killed in action, 775 were wounded and 115 were taken prisoners. Britain also lost 2 frigates, 2 destroyers, 1 LSL landing ship, 1 container ship, 1 LCU amphibious craft, 10 fighter aircrafts and 24 helicopters. A British bomber also got captured. 3 civilians of Falkland Islands were also killed in the war. After the war, U.K. expanded presence of its military forces and increased garrison’s size on the islands. Last year the islanders voted almost unanimously to remain as an overseas U.K. territory.

Online edition of renowned daily middle market tabloid newspaper in the U.K., Daily Express reported that while British Oil firms had been prospecting in the seas around the Falkland Islands, British companies & individuals were issued a warning by the Argentine Embassy in London on 28th November 2013. Argentine congress passed a law and the warning in accordance to the law said that the British prospectors face up to 15 years prison sentences. The warning also included fines equal to the current monetary value of 1.5 million barrels of oil or about £100 million or $164 million would also be imposed.

This move by Argentina sparked a major tension in the region and triggered an enraged response by the British Foreign office reminding Buenos Aeries that Falkland Islands are sovereign territory of U.K.

More than 200 warning letters were sent to involved prospecting companies by the Argentine Embassy in London. According to the new law, companies would also be banned in Argentina and their exploration equipment or any oil found would be taken over.

Argentina previously objected to London formally on this issue and believes that the oil exploration is a manifest violation of Resolution 31/49 of the UN General Assembly. British Foreign Office said that the hydrocarbons activities by companies operating on the islands’ continental shelf were regulated by the legislation of Government of Falkland Islands, which was also in absolute accordance with the UN convention of Law of the sea. The statement also said that the UK government absolutely supported the right of Falkland Islanders to develop their natural resources for the benefit of their own economy.

‘Argentine domestic law does not apply to the Falkland Islands or the South Sandwich Islands & South Georgia, which are overseas territories of the United Kingdom’ the statement added.

Premier Oil is expected to start taking oil for the first time in 2018 from the Sea Lion field. The field is assumed to have around 394 million barrels of oil, which makes it larger than most of the current oilfields of North Sea. Stephen Luxton, director of Mineral Resources for Falkland Islands Govt., said that the Argentine law would have no impact.
Video story: Documentary on 1982 Falkland Islands war

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE