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Falkland Islands

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on May 8, 2012

A long-disputed archipelago in the South Atlantic

The Falkland Islands consist of two moderately-sized islands and over 700 small islands and rocks in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 290 miles east of the Strait of Magellan.  The islands (and its 3,000 permanent residents) are a self-governing British Overseas Territory.  The islands were first discovered by the Dutch explorer Sebald de Weert in 1600, who named them the Sebald Islands in honor of himself.  In 1690, Captain John Strong on the British ship Welfare was blown off course and arrived at the islands.  He named the passage between the two principal islands “Falkland Channel” in honor of Anthony Cary, Fifth Viscount of Falkland, who had financed the voyage.  The archipelago takes its English name from this body of water.  In 1764, the French explorer Louis de Bougainville founded a settlement at what is now Port Louis, East Falkland, claiming the islands, which he called Iles Malouines, for France.  This was the first attempt to establish a permanent population on the islands.  In 1766, the British navigator John Byron, unaware of the French settlement, established a British settlement at Port Egmont on West Falkland, claiming the islands for Britain.  Spain acquired the French settlement in 1767 and, in 1770, attacked Port Egmont and expelled the British.  A subsequent peace treaty allowed the British to return, but they left again in 1774 due to economic difficulties in India and America.  In 1820, a privateer operating under letters of marque issued by the United Provinces of the River Plata claimed the islands for that government.  A settlement was established on the islands in 1828 with authorization from the Republic of Buenos Aires and the United Kingdom.  The islands were claimed for the United States in 1831 by the commanding officer of the USS Lexington, but this claim later was officially rejected by the US government.  In 1832, Argentina established a penal colony on the islands.  The next year, British forces directed the departure of Argentine government representatives and governed the settlement as a naval station.  In 1840, this was converted to a permanent British colony and has largely remained so.  This changed, temporarily, on April 2, 1982, when Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic.  The British sent an expeditionary force to counter the Argentine move.  Following some brief but sharp actions, the Argentine forces surrendered on June 14, 1982.  Argentina has not, though, abandoned its claim over the islands, which it refers to as Las Malvinas.  There are rich fishing grounds around the islands.  More recently, though, potential oil and gas deposits have been located on the continental shelf.  The residents, mostly of British descent, wish to remain British citizens and the British government affirms that it will support their right of self-determination.  Argentina imposes economic pressure by limiting access to its ports by ships calling at the islands or engaging in oil and gas exploration offshore.  The impasse continues.

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