Thirty years ago they triggered a war between Great Britain and Argentina. Today the Falkland Islands are again causing friction, and this time cruise ships are getting caught in the middle.
Argentine activists have been targeting cruise ships that call on the South Atlantic islands and then visit Argentine ports. Passengers have been harassed and ships delayed from leaving port.
Some rancor stems from last year’s 30th anniversary of the war, a 74-day conflict over sovereignty won by Great Britain, and from a recent letter sent by Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to British Prime Minister David Cameron calling on him to return control of the islands to Argentina.
Underlying the tensions are hopes that undersea oil discoveries could bring new wealth to the islands.
Oil resources are unevenly divided in South America, with Venezuela and Ecuador having a lot and most of the other countries relatively little. But in 2009, one of the richest oil discoveries in the Western Hemisphere was made in deep water explorations off Brazil.
Seismic surveys show some signs that an equally large field could be tapped around the Falklands, and major players have been actively drilling exploration wells in the area.
Caught in the middle of this petro-political mess are cruise lines such as Seabourn, Princess and Silversea, which offer lengthy voyages this time of year in South America.
Cruise ships are targets because many are flagged in states associated with Great Britain, such as the Star Princess (Bermuda) or the Seabourn Sojourn (Bahamas). A law valid in five of Argentina’s provinces bans British ships involved in “exploitation of national resources” around the Falklands from docking.
Some ardent nationalists say the law extends to cruise ships. Last month, the Sojourn stayed in port an extra seven hours in Buenos Aires, under pressure to skip a stop in the Falklands, according to Britain’s Express newspaper.
A company statement said the delay was due to temporary unavailability of a tug and that it would sail to the Falklands after its stop in Montevideo, Uruguay, as scheduled.
While this latest round of protests continues, passengers booked on deep South America itineraries might best be prepared for the possibility of some extra days at sea.