Luxury cruise ship companies have altered their itineraries to ensure passenger safety. Cruise ship passengers have been harassed, verbally abused, and prevented from leaving their ship because of angry Argentinian protestors, who claim that visits to the Falklands are illegal under current provincial law. This has caused British lawmakers and ministers to condemn the actions of the militant protestors, exhorting them to “allow cruise ships to travel without threats of hindrance”.
However, it seems that the plea for civility may be falling on deaf ears, as activists have stepped up the disruption due to the worsening diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina. Union flags and tires burned as elderly passengers were heckled and accosted, with the activists insisting that the ships have docked illegally.
Argentine protesters claim that the Star Princess, a Bermudan cruise ship, and Seabourn Sojourn, a Bahamian vessel, had docked at provinces in the region, including the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, which is a violation of the Gaucho Rivero law.
The Gaucho Rivero statute covers the five provinces of Tierra del Fuego, Santa Cruz, Chubut, Rio Negro, and Buenos Aires, which prohibits British ships that traffic in the “exploitation of natural resources” around the Falklands from docking. The law was meant to regulate British and convenience flagged vessels from the Falklands’ hydrocarbons industry – but according to activists, local unions, and some prominent politicians, the law applies to cruise liners as well.
The protests have been ongoing, affecting almost 10,000 passengers since November of last year. In December, Britain’s Foreign Office “formally summoned” Argentine Ambassador Alicia Castro, because of “the Government of Argentina’s failure to respond to several requests for an assurance that British and other shipping would not be disrupted in Argentine ports.”
The Foreign Office states: “Ships engaged in legitimate commercial business, including tourism, should not be prevented from going about their business. The Argentine government’s increasingly aggressive actions against the people of the Falklands Islands are unacceptable and must stop.”
Great Britain is expected to officially file their grievances against Argentina before the International Maritime Organization, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization.
The crew and passenger harassment and port disruption has taken many forms: Argentinian officials have openly refused permission entry to ports and have delayed ships; masked militants have targeted offices of shipping companies and ransacked them; and cruise lines have been forced to alter their itineraries to appease locals and avoid trouble.
American owned and Bahamas based Seabourn Sojourn was detained while trying to leave Buenos Aires on December 4th, though speculation remains rampant over the true cause of the delay. The official statement from the cruise ship claims that the postponement was “due to the temporary unavailability of a required tugboat escort.”
However, the British media reported that the delay was due to a protest by Argentine port workers. The ship was held in port for 7 hours, as the United Maritime Workers Union allegedly demanded that the Sojourn’s captain must pledge to not visit the Falklands. Eventually, the ship was allowed to continue on its itinerary, sailing to its next stop in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Last November, the German cruise company AIDAcara cancelled a stop at Port Stanley because of intense protests in Buenos Aires. The offices of the Argentine Shipping Services had been raided by militants, who allegedly told shipping agents that they would stop cruise ships from docking in Argentinian ports unless trips to the Falkland Islands were dropped from their itineraries. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, there was no official police intervention, nor were any arrests made -which angered the British government and fanned the diplomatic flames.
The protests are affecting both Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Holland America Line and MS Veendam, both owned by US-based Carnival Corporation, have cancelled stops at the Falklands. Meanwhile, P&O also altered their itineraries; for fear that militants will target them for harassment. P&O has announced that their ships will be avoiding all Argentine ports while visiting the Falkland Islands. Meanwhile, other major cruise companies may be “considering their position” and evaluating the potential hassle of maintaining their itineraries in the face of growing controversy. Silversea Cruises are taking no chances with their crew and passenger safety, and have cancelled all visits to the Falkland Islands as a result.
Penny Guy, an official from the Passenger Shipping Association, stressed the importance of crew and passenger safety, saying that changing plans are the natural solution if “difficulties in certain countries” arose.
“We are very disappointed that cruise ships are being affected either through visiting the Falkland Islands or traveling to Argentina,” she stated.
Great Britain’s Foreign Office is claiming that Argentina is trying “to strangle” the Falklands economy, since the cruise ship tourism industry generates £10m annually and provides steady employment to a quarter of the working population.
“We condemn unequivocally any efforts to intimidate companies from pursuing their lawful business,” stated Hugo Swire, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs minister. “The British government deeply regrets that elements in Argentina have recently taken action aimed at disrupting cruise ships that visit the Falklands.”
In response to the aggressive protests from Argentina, the Falklands government has condemned the “intimidation of cruise operators,” and is asking cruise lines to “stand firm” against the intimidation and to continue visiting the islands.
The controversy intensified last year, the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, when Argentine president Cristina Kirchner made aggressive diplomatic overtures about reclaiming Argentine jurisdiction over the Falklands. On January 3rd of this year, President Kirchner stepped up the pressure, writing an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron to return the islands under Argentine control.
However, it seems that the Falkland Islanders may not be so eager to return under Argentine jurisdiction. A referendum that will determine the disputed islands’ sovereignty is set for March 2013, which should confirm where the loyalty of the 3,000 islanders truly lay. It is widely expected that the island residents will reject Argentina’s claims of ownership and vote to stay under British jurisdiction, though it remains to be seen if the results will be accepted by the Argentine government.