THE arrival of a Royal Navy ship on a routine visit to Uruguay has caused outrage in South America as tensions build ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.
HMS Protector’s presence in the port of Montevideo comes just days after Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay agreed a pact to close ports to Falklands vessels.
A photo of the Portsmouth-based ice patrol ship appeared on the front page of Uruguayan national newspaper El Observador on Tuesday with the headline ‘English boat in the port’.
The article was critical of Uruguayan port authorities for allowing Protector to stop over ahead of going on to the Falklands this week.
It was the Uruguayan government – in an act of solidarity with Argentina – which proposed the move to close ports to ‘illegal’ Falklands-flagged vessels at a summit in Montevideo on December 21.
But Uruguayan port authorities claim there was nothing to stop HMS Protector coming into Montevideo on December 30 because she sails under the Royal Navy’s White Ensign.
Commentators say the row exposes cracks in Uruguay’s support for Argentina.
Defence analyst Eric Grove, professor of naval history at University of Salford, said: ‘I suspect Uruguay’s support for Argentina about the Falklands may only be skin deep.
‘Uruguay is historically pretty pro-British and HMS Protector has been allowed to come in and has been treated like any other warship.’
Argentina’s claim to the Falklands has escalated since the recent British oil exploration in the islands’ waters.
But Britain insists its ownership of the territory is clear under international law and the Islanders’ right to choose to be under British rule is not up for negotiation.
Protector is in the area ahead of her maiden Antarctic expedition. The ship joined the navy last year as a loan replacement for HMS Endurance, which is out of service since almost sinking in 2008.