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Argentine maritime workers plan to boycott U.K. flagged ships in the latest chapter of an escalating dispute between the two nations over the contested Falkland Islands, according to a top union official.
Diplomatic tensions between Argentina and the U.K. over the sovereignty of the Falklands, known as the Malvinas in Spanish, have risen sharply in recent weeks. Last week, Argentina made an official complaint to the United Nations to protest what it has described as the U.K.'s militarization of the islands.
The complaint comes after the U.K. said it was sending a warship to patrol the South Atlantic and that Prince William had begun a stint as a search and rescue pilot on the Falklands. The U.K. has described both deployments as routine.
Starting Tuesday at midnight local time, trade union SOMU will cease to provide services to U.K. vessels as well as those of other nations hired by U.K.-based shipping companies, secretary general Omar Suarez said.
"As workers we are totally offended by... the militarization of the South Atlantic," he said in an interview.
SOMU represents sailors, cooks and other workers serving on ships in Argentine waters.
Suarez said the measure has the support of Argentina's transportation union umbrella group CATT, whose members include SOMU as well as air and railroad unions.
In a statement widely cited by local media Tuesday, CATT said it had decided to boycott U.K. vessels to protest the U.K.'s "militarist pretension" in the disputed islands.
CATT secretary general Omar Viviani wasn't immediately available for comment.
Dock workers union SUPA still hasn't decided whether to join the boycott. Its participation hinges on whether Argentina's largest trade union confederation, CGT, gives the nod, a union official said.
"We are with the CGT. What the CGT decides, we follow," said the SUPA official, who expects the CGT to make a decision early Friday.
Disruptions to trade with the U.K. might backfire on Argentina, which enjoyed a trade surplus of $269 million with the U.K. in 2010.
Argentina has long demanded the return of the Falklands, which have been under British control since the early 1830s, as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic. The two nations fought a brief but bloody war for control of the islands in 1982 that ended in a crushing defeat for Argentina.
The U.K. has repeatedly said it will defend the islanders right to self-determination.
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has enjoyed some success in her efforts to diplomatically and economically isolate the Falklands, whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly of British descent.
In December, the South American trade block, Mercosur, closed its ports to Falkland flagged vessels. Some Caribbean countries have since joined the Mercosur embargo.
Concerns have also grown that Argentina might act on past threats to block the only regular commercial flight to the Falklands, operated by LAN Airlines SA (LFL), which flies through Argentine airspace from Chile.
Argentina has become more vocal in its demands of sovereignty following the start of offshore oil and gas exploration near the islands by London-listed Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd. (FOGL.LN), Rockhopper Exploration PLC (RKH.LN) and Desire Petroleum PLC (DES.LN) in 2010.
Oil production could prove a boon for the Falkland Islands government, whose main source of revenue are fisheries licenses sold to companies eager to fish the rich waters surrounding the islands.
-By Ken Parks, Dow Jones Newswires; 54-11-4103-6740, [email protected]