Published on 12 Feb 2014

‘Insult to the nation’: admiral sees red over Argentine bid to ban British flag

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Admiral Lord West of Spithead is used to feeling the wrath of the Argentinians. The former First Sea Lord was at the helm of his frigate HMS Ardent when it was bombed and sunk during the Falklands war.

So as a passenger on Cunard’s cruise liner the Queen Victoria earlier this month, he was incensed to learn that the Argentine authorities were flexing their muscles.

“After we’d gone round Cape Horn I was at dinner with the captain, and the captain said to me that when they were in Buenos Aires that she’d basically been threatened with a punitive fine of $10,000 and also told there’d be ‘trouble’ in inverted commas – not specified – if she didn’t take down the red ensign which the ship flies,” Lord West told me today.

We were speaking on board the HQS Wellington, the headquarters of the honourable company of master mariners, which was proudly flying the flag in question.

The red duster, as its known, is worn by all British non-military shipping. But Argentina’s largest province passed a law banning vessels flying the flag from docking in Buenos Aires.

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“I think it’s an insult – it’s an insult to the nation,” the Admiral said, describing the provincial law as “atrocious”.

However, it’s understood that the law only applies to ships which have travelled to the Falklands, so the Queen Victoria shouldn’t have fallen foul of it.

Tonight, when informed of the incident by Channel 4 News, the Foreign Office said: “We condemn any attempts by the Argentine authorities to unnecessarily interfere with the legitimate transit of UK-flagged vessels…This appears to be another example of unacceptable harassment and intimidation…We are urgently discussing the matter with Carnival UK [Cunard’s parent company] and will raise this with the Argentine authorities.”

Lord West is a Labour peer but the Falklands war has been embraced by Conservatives as their former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s finest hour.

Perhaps Cunard’s finest hour too: its flagship, the QE2, transported troops to the islands during the conflict. So Argentine sabre-rattling is likely to be met with a robust riposte.

Argentina’s president has been stoking tensions with Britain since she called for David Cameron to return the Falklands to her country a year ago. In the midst of an economic meltdown, Argentina has threatened to imprison anyone who taps potentially lucrative oil reserves around the islands.

Admiral West now plans to ask questions in parliament about the latest diplomatic incident. Knowing the enduring political potency of the Falklands victory, ministers are unlikely to hold back in their answers.

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14 reader comments

  1. Martin says:

    This ship is no longer registered in the UK . Since 2011 it has been registered in Hamilton Bermuda. So it should not be entitled to fly the red duster.

    1. Mike Ryan says:

      Bermuda is still very much a territory of the UK, and the Bermuda flag and Brit flags are interchangable with vessels registered there.

    2. Andrew Dundas says:

      You’re correct!

      The Bermudan flag is also very similar to the Red Duster and just as patriotic.

  2. T says:

    Insult????
    This ” Admiral” needs to look up the interpretation of insult.
    I am Irish therefore my opinion on British occupation is more close to the heart than most people.
    Out of respect of the past , I think the ship should have voulenteraly taken down the flag.
    I frequent Argentina and am very aware of the bizarre politics. However, in this case I am in there favour.
    When you enter Argentina, all nations who charge Argentines for a visa such as USA,Australia,Canada , those who hold those passports ,are charged an entry fee is 130USD.
    European passports are exempt from this fee as we don’t charge Argentines to come here.
    It is just a matter of time and rightly so, that Argentina will enforce this fee unto UK passport holders and this , insensitive ,”Admiral” ,will have fuelled this act.
    Imperialism is dead!

    1. Roger Lorton says:

      Respect for the past?? What’s that about? Argentina first invaded the Falkland Islands in 1832 and has been attempting to steal this territory ever since. The British claim goes back to Hawkins in 1594 whereas Argentina only declared its independence in 1816.

      The Red Ensign is internationally recognised, and it would have been better for Cunard to visit Port Stanley than Buenos Aires

    2. Joe Thorpe says:

      Your English is as bad as most of the Argentine trolls.

    3. John Driscoll says:

      I’m glad I’m an I’m an Irish Citizen

    4. John says:

      Being from Northern Ireland and proud to be British , as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom , thankfully, i totally support the flying of the Red Duster , maybe the bankrupt Argies need a quick lesson from our brave Armed forces again !!

    5. Lankylad says:

      It seems to me that Great Britain is the only country which seems to be targeted by these mindless acts.
      GB and the USA stood side by side with the USSR in WWII.
      Had we LOST no doubt the Argentinians would have welcomed hitler with Open arms as they seem to have the same totalitarian tendencies.
      NO state has the right to interfere with the Law of the Seas! Not even Argentina.
      How about GB beginning a campaign to get the Argentinians to pay massive reparations to the remnants of the original South American peoples who were exterminated by Spanish/Argebtinian Genocide. A genocide older than the holding of the Falklands by the British? Perhaps GB could take the case of all those native S Americans cruelly exterminated and robbed by the original Spanish invaders to the United Nations and the Court of World Opinion?
      Or do the left leaning agitators only fire at British targets.
      We can see how much national pride was hurt in all the nations that the British stopped from “ruling the world” in the past.
      For goodness sake, Get Over IT!!
      Once you do, the inferiority complex will disappear…Really!!

  3. Alan Burrows says:

    I would assume the Captain is a strong minded person to get to command such a ship, he should have told them to stick there demand where the sun does not shine.
    How can a person rise to the rank he did & become a labour peer a party that since formation has worked for the distruction of the Uk & the big Govenment culture of give me & I will vote for you.

    1. Philip says:

      Probably because he realised that the Labour party isn’t the absurd caricature you apparently believe. What the Labour party at its best has done is to understand that the UK is a community and that those that start off life with least should have a fair chance to get on, in a country where the system is loaded in favour of those who are already wealthy. Their failure hasn’t been “to the distruction of the Uk & the big Govenment culture of give me & I will vote for you”, but cosying up too much to the people with the wealth, so that we have an increasingly unequal society, where social mobility has ossified. If any party has destroyed the UK, it’s the Tories, with their obsession with an unproven economic theory that destroyed British manufacturing & favoured a “me me” culture, cutting taxes for the rich & squeezing opportunities for the poor. (And signed the Maastricht Treaty & encouraged EU enlargement…assuming that’s your reason for “the destruction of the UK”)

  4. Philip Edwards says:

    Cathy,

    This childish spat proves three things:

    1. Military men should not be allowed anywhere near diplomacy.

    2. The Argentines responsible for this nonsense should grow up; so should “Lord” West.

    3. Nationalism is the enemy of civilisation.

    Not that it will make the slightest bit of difference until you-know-where ends up back in the control of Buenos Aires.

    Instead of sending young working class men and women off to kill each other on behalf of the oil companies, somebody at the UN should bang Brit and Argentine heads together until they talk to each other like adults. Some hope.

  5. Robert Taggart says:

    Why not fly the Anglo-Saxon White Dragon Flag ?
    Even most natives of Blighty would not recognise this !

  6. Andrew says:

    Well…the Argentinians have the right to refuse entrance to their HARBOURS (technically to their “internal waters” but it is effectively the same thing) to absolutely anyone they like (apart from to any vessel in distress). Banning British-flagged cruise ships from Argentine ports is likely to have a rather detrimental local effect on Argentina’s somewhat troubled economy at present… but that is their call, and their domestic political/economic decision.

    Closing one’s ports is different from preventing the right of “innocent passage” where any vessel may pass through territorial waters of any State with almost no limitations. Argentina is not doing that and no-one, I believe, is suggesting they are.

    As I understand it, the rather puerile August 2012 regional Argentine law bans the entrance to their ports of British flagged (or “flag of convenience”) ships involved in the oil and gas industry around the Falklands. It does not, to my understanding, ban the WEARING of a British ensign – in fact not only does Argentina (or its regions) not have the right to do so to a foreign-flagged vessel, Argentina is actually breaching international law if they were to try. I repeat – the Act does not, to my understanding, do this. It bans the DOCKING of British-flagged vessel under some circumstances.

    This Act is designed to apply a degree of economic pressure on the (legitimate) exploitation of resources within the Falklands’ Exclusive Economic Area (the “200 mile” radius). Argentina does this due to their (false) claim that the Falklands are occupied Argentine territory. Which dispute I think is ridiculous but which I do not want to get into here, as it is not directly relevant and I slightly digress, albeit to add some context. But this law is part of the same pattern of behaviour as the Argentine Embassy in London writing to the LSE, BP, Rockhopper etc. threatening to take legal action if those companies get involved in Falklands exploration – this following the November 2013 Argentine law threatening “criminal sanctions” on companies and individuals involved in “the illegal exploration” around the Falklands.

    Argentina can exclude anyone they like from their ports – but they cannot make extra-territorial laws over another State’s territory – or another State’s ships. And they cannot breach their own international obligations under UN Conventions, to which they are signatories…

    Argentina is a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). A ship’s flag and a ship’s “flag state” is central to UNCLOS and Argentina simply is in fundamental breach of international law if they were to demand a ship of any flag state NOT fly the flag to which it is both entitled AND OBLIGED to fly under UNCLOS. End of.

    So if an Argentine official is ordering a British ship to remove her ensign in an Argentine port – he is actually not acting in accordance with the Argentine law, and is also breaching UNCLOS. I wonder where the $10,000 fine would have gone, and if the Master of the British ship paying it would get a receipt? Likely the Master would have been in breach of the UK Bribery Act had he paid any such “fine”!

    If the said official was acting with the authority of the State he is on extremely thin ice. I suspect any official UK complaint to Argentina will be met with a response of “unfortunate misunderstanding…unintended consequences of possibly overzealous concern for safety” blah blah blah…

    Incidentally – there is no legal requirement to fly a ship’s flag whilst alongside in any port, so it is in the Master’s discretion whether to comply or not in this case (personally I would probably tell them to go to Hades and take the consequences….but diplomacy was never my strong point. The Master has many other commercial and command responsibility factors that he must consider. This includes of course the safety of his embarked passengers as a primary concern, and the commercial interests of his owners). On balance he probably did the right thing – as long as it was reported to the British authorities immediately.

    However, if he did take down his colours alongside, then he is in breach of the UK’s 1995 Merchant Shipping Act – Chapter 21 5 (1) (b) – but ONLY if he did not hoist them again BEFORE he departed the said port. The Act states British ships must wear national colours on arrival and departure from a foreign port (thus codifying centuries of international practice and custom) – however the Act also is totally silent on any requirement concerning the wearing them whilst alongside!

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