The controversy in Argentina over the construction of a new British port in the Malvinas / Falklands Islands

Diplomatic disputes between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Malvinas / Falklands Islands are common, and have increased since both countries clashed almost four decades ago for the sovereignty of that archipelago in the South Atlantic.

But the most recent controversy involves a new “front line”: the antartida.

Argentina and the United Kingdom are two of the seven nations that claim parts of the white continent, but they are the only two that claim exactly the same portion of territory.

The British Antarctic claim, made in 1908, completely encompasses (and exceeds) the territory that the South American country had claimed four years earlier.

In 1940, Chile joined the controversy, claiming part of the land claimed by both.

Now This Antarctic rivalry has deepened, thanks to a fact that at first glance does not seem to have much to do with it.

It’s about building a new deep water port in the Malvinas / Falklands, following the deterioration of the current port.

At BBC Mundo we explain why this work has generated the anger of some politicians in Argentina and the concern of Antarctic experts in that country.

And why the new Malvinas / Falklands port has become a new chapter in the Antarctic dispute.

What happened

It all started at the end of 2018, when the government of the Malvinas / Falklands Islands – known as the FIG or Falkland Islands Government – published a notice inviting companies to present their ideas for the construction of a new port.

In a report presented to the local Legislative Assembly, Barry Elsby, head of the Development and Commercial Services portfolio, explained that the deterioration of the current port, built in 1984 and known as Fipass (Falklands Interim Port and Storage System), it was such “that it is no longer safe for ships to dock there.”

Consulted by the newspaper Penguin News – the only one posted on the islands – on what they intended the new port to look like, Elsby noted that the FIG was open to suggestions, and had left the notice “deliberately open.”

“The ad came out saying we want a port with this amount of berth space, this amount of cargo capacity on the edge, and then we allow stakeholders to develop their own ideas and sell them to us,” he said.

The current main port of the Malvinas / Falklands Islands, built in 1984, to be replaced in 2024.


In May 2019, the tender was opened for what Elsby described as “one of the capital projects largest in the history of the islands”And in February 2020 it was announced that the work had been awarded to the British-Dutch firm BAM Nutall Ltd.

“As is well known, the existing Fipass installation is fast approaching at the end of its useful life. Today’s exciting news is the first step in designing a new facility that can handle both our current needs and our projected future demands, ”FIG Chief Executive Barry Rowland said in making the announcement.

It was reported that the new port will be built near the current one, at Stanley Harbor.

During the contract signing in April 2020, BAM Nuttall Managing Director Martin Bellamy said the new port will “support the local economy, including fishing, tourism and maritime transport, and it will facilitate the economic growth foreseen in the future ”.

After a pause due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, plans were resumed in August 2020 and in September BAM Nuttall presented the plan of the new port at a public hearing in the municipality.

Plan of the new Malvinas / Falklands port presented by BAM Nuttall

BAM Nuttall

The island’s authorities reported that the port will be operational “at the beginning of 2024 at the latest”, and that its construction will be financed with loans for US $ 85 million.

The controversy

So far the news of the new port in Malvinas / Falklands had passed almost unnoticed outside the archipelago.

However, a year later, in August 2021, this work became the center of a controversy in neighboring Argentina.

First, the government of the southernmost province of the country, whose official name is Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands (which includes the Malvinas / Falklands), denounced BAM Nuttall for operating without its authorization in that region on the one who claim sovereignty.

Then, in the middle of the month, a national senator from Tierra del Fuego denounced before the Argentine Parliament that this work has the ultimate goal of expanding British control over Antarctica.

“With the construction of this port, Great Britain intends to consolidate its colonialism in the Malvinas and the region as a spearhead to extend its influence over Antarctica“Accused Pablo Blanco.

According to the legislator, the objective of the new port is “to provide logistics services to third European countries that have interests in the white continent.”

“What they want is to have more logistical resources to continue appropriating renewable and non-renewable natural resources that are ours,” he said.

Argentine Congress

Getty Images

“Gateway to Antarctica”

BBC Mundo consulted the FIG and the British government for Argentine statements and plans regarding the new port, but received no response.

The Merco Press news agency, which covers the South Atlantic, remarked that the complaints in Argentina occur in the run-up to the mid-term primary elections, which take place in mid-September.

Awakening the nationalist vein is very usefulHe noted, on the peculiar timing of the complaints.

But the truth is that, beyond politics, there is a genuine concern among some in Argentina that the new port of Malvinas / Falklands seek to replace the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, as a point of entry to Antarctica.

Located about 1,000 kilometers from the white continent, Ushuaia is the southernmost capital in the world and proclaims itself the “gateway to Antarctica”.

Although the Malvinas / Falklands authorities never directly linked their new port to Antarctic expeditions, an event last February has led some in Argentina to conclude that this will be one of their objectives.

This was stated by the Argentine magazine DEF, specialized in defense, energy and science issues, in a report published in early August.

According to the publication, what “raised the alarm among Argentine Antarctic specialists”Was a trip made by about a hundred technicians and scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.

The experts left the city of Hamburg bound for the German base Neumayer III, in Antarctica.

But what was unprecedented, according to DEF, was how they made that journey: first they flew in a Lufthansa plane, hired by the Wegener Institute, to Mount Pleasant International Airport, a British Air Force military base in the Falklands / Malvinas. .

And from there they traveled to the white continent on the German icebreaker Polarstern.

The German icebreaker Polarstern.

Getty Images

According to DEF, “it was the first air-maritime operation of its kind, with the capacity to go and return to Europe in a period of between 48 and 72 hours ”.

The magazine pointed out that this trip, added to the construction of “a new British port in Malvinas (/ Falklands) specialized in Antarctic services (…) they are indications of the beginning of an aggressive British policy to attract clients among the international Antarctic community“.

Antarctic competition

Until now, many of the countries that claim parts of Antarctica, and of the remaining 35 nations that have permanent bases on the white continent, had acceded there from the two closest points: Ushuaia or Punta Arenas, in Chile(located about 150km further north).

But according to the same DEF report, these countries – which are mostly in the northern hemisphere – could be looking for other access routes because “South American ports are characterized by administrative obstacles.”

“In addition, in a globalized world it is increasingly important to reduce freight costs”, highlights the specialized media.

In this sense, it also highlights that, beyond the British plans, Chile already leads Argentina regarding the logistics it offers to access Antarctica.

“Chile developed private companies for ships and aircraft for polar exploration, leads the Antarctic tourism strip and will soon have the most modern icebreaker in the southern hemisphere,” he highlights.

For all this, some Antarctic experts believe that, rather than focusing on British plans, Argentina should focus on making the most of its privileged geographical position.

“The proximity to Antarctica would allow us to form an operational and scientific logistic pole both nationally and internationally, which would allow us to position ourselves as a world reference,” says journalist Susana Rigoz, a specialist in Antarctic issues.

The docks of Ushuaia


Alejandro Bertotto, former provincial director of Antarctica and former head of the San Martín Antarctic base, told DEF that in the 1990s there was an ambitious project, sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to establish in Ushuaia “an international system Antarctic logistics ”.

The plans included the installation of “an air cargo terminal station, a marine cargo terminal and accommodation for scientific personnel in transit.”

“In addition, in Antarctica, at the Petrel base, an Antarctic cargo terminal station was planned, to, from there, distribute to Argentine and foreign bases that hire these services,” he said.

However, the South American country, afflicted by constant economic crises, did not advance with the plans.

  • The problem that has caused the latest economic crises in Argentina and that the new president will now have to face
  • “Regrettably, Argentina did not know how to take the Antarctic logistics trainBertotto lamented.

    The DEF report highlights that the country —the first in the world to install a permanent base in Antarctica and claim its sovereignty there— “has a high quality of human, military and scientific resources, in addition to extensive experience in the development of Antarctic campaigns ”.

    Therefore, it concludes that “Argentina is wasting its advantage to have a deep-water port on the Beagle Channel ”.

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