Falklands 30 - HMS PROTECTOR - January 2012
From the defence website.
HMS Protector's visit to Uruguay
The Daily Telegraph reports that HMS Protector, an ice patrol vessel on a scientific mission to the South Atlantic, called in at Montevideo en route to the Falklands, raising tensions as the South American port was operating an embargo against vessels sailing under the Falkland Islands flag.
HMS Protector, the Royal Navy's new ice patrol ship, has made a routine port visit to Montevideo, Uruguay, on her way from the UK to the Antarctic.
The 5,000-tonne ice breaker is on an eight-month deployment surveying and patrolling the frozen continent of Antarctica. She is en route to conduct her scientific research and patrols in the region, supporting Antarctic communities and providing cutting-edge hydrographic charting and imagery of the Antarctic region for the UK Hydrographic Office.
Her visit to Montevideo was to allow a crew changeover and to collect stores.
HMS Protector will continue her journey to the Antarctic where she will carry out all the functions of an Antarctic patrol ship. She will deploy to patrol and survey the Antarctic and South Atlantic, maintaining a UK presence and supporting the international community in the region.
Juan Jose Dominguez, Vice President of the Uruguayan Ports Authority, confirmed that the Royal Navy's new ice patrol ship had full permission to visit Montevideo. This contradicts the claim that HMS Protector's recent visit had been unwelcome, as reported in the Uruguayan newspaper 'El Observador'. HMS Protector was authorised to dock three weeks before her arrival in Montevideo.
Mr Dominguez was quoted as saying: "There are no impediments for her to make use of the port's services. Had it been a fishing vessel with a British flag, there would be no inconvenience, so equally on this occasion they are welcome to operate in Montevideo. The issue is the Malvinas [Falkland Islands] flag. I repeat we knew she was coming for over three weeks."
MERCO Press reported: Thursday, January 5th 2012.
Spanish vessel with Falklands’ flag barred from the port of Punta del Este
A Spanish fishing vessel flying the Falkland Islands flag was barred from entering the alternative port of Punta del Este where she was planning to receive crewmembers. The news was confirmed by Uruguay’s Coast Guard.
Last 29 December the Uruguayan Coast Guard officially informed the Navigation Centre, which brings together all (Montevideo) port operators that Falklands’ flagged vessels would not be allowed to dock in Uruguayan ports including alternative terminals such as Punta del Este and La Paloma, both tourism and fishing ports.
The decision sponsored by the Uruguayan government in support of Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falklands and later approved by Mercosur for all regional ports caused great concern among the Galician fleet since almost twenty of their South Atlantic vessels are registered under the Falklands flag.
Montevideo has been traditionally the supply, bunkering, repairs and transhipment hub for the Spanish South Atlantic fleet.
The fact that following the December Mercosur summit in Montevideo the decision was made extensive to Brazilian ports, considered an alternative instead of Uruguay, was described as “the worst possible piece of news” by the Vigo and Spanish media.
Contacts have began with London and with the new Spanish government of President Mariano Rajoy to help mitigate Argentine pressure and “not have Spanish fishing vessels hostages of a sovereignty conflict between the UK and Buenos Aires”.
“The blockade of Mercosur ports to Spanish vessels is worrying, unacceptable and plain blackmail, and there is no possible right in support of barring the vessels. It’s a terrible precedent”, said Jose Manuel Muñiz president of the Spanish Association of Registered Fishing Masters.
Jose Ramon Fuertes, Managing Director of the Vigo Fishing vessels cooperative questioned that Argentina should challenge and harass Spanish fishing vessels on their way to the Falklands as happened last 17 December with the “Villa Nores”, since “innocent passage and free navigation are protected by international conventions”.
Fuertes regretted that “once again the Spanish fishing fleet or of Spanish capital is the target” when other fleets operate freely in the South Atlantic “with no questioning or obstacles”
The whole situation caused a serious diplomatic exchange between Uruguay and the UK regarding the Falklands’ flagged vessels, including a phone interview between Foreign Secretary William Hague and Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs minister Luis Almagro.
Both officials agreed they had a disagreement and stood firm in their positions. However Uruguay at all moments made it clear that UN recognized flags from all over the world, including the red ensign are welcomed in Montevideo, with the exception of the ‘illegal’ Falklands banner.
The Uruguayan government and port of Montevideo local maritime chandlers industries are hopeful that the Falklands’ vessels will change to some other flag thus avoiding the inconvenience.