Sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands


Sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

The sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is disputed between the United Kingdom and Argentina. The United Kingdom exercises "de facto" control, and has done so since the islands were annexed by that country in 1908, [http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/country-profiles/south-america/south-georgia-south-sandwich/?profile=history&pg=3 Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Country Profile: South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (British Overseas Territory) - History] ] with the exception of a brief period during the Falklands War in 1982. Argentina has claimed sovereignty over South Georgia since 1927 and over the South Sandwich Islands since 1938. [http://www.worldstatesmen.org/South_Georgia_Islands.html World Statesmen.org: South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands] ; Accessed 23 June 2008] The islands have no indigenous population [http://www.sgisland.gs/index.php/(h)the_island Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands] ] , and currently no permanent population.

History of the claims

Origins of the British claim

The South Georgia archipelago was first claimed for Great Britain by James Cook in January 1775, having been previously discovered by various mariners. [http://www.btinternet.com/~sa_sa/south_georgia/south_georgia_history_18.html "18th Century History of South Georgia, South Atlantic Ocean"] , Accessed 23 June, 2008] However, the British did little to enforce this claim until 1843, when Letters Patent were issued to provide for the government of the islands, which were to be governed as a Falkland Islands Dependency. These were revised in 1876 and 1892.

In 1908, following enquiries regarding the sovereignty of the area currently covered by the British Antarctic Territory from the Norwegian government, the British government stated that the islands were British, and issued Letters Patent to include "South Orkney, South Georgia and South Shetland islands, and Graham Land situated in the South Atlantic Ocean to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude and lying between the 20th and 80th degrees of west longitude" as Falkland Islands Dependencies. It was made clear at this time that the association with the Falkland Islands was intended as an administrative convenience. [http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic17-1-15.pdf National Interests and Claims in the Antarctic] , pps 19-20, Robert E. Wilson]

As it had been noticed that that a literal interpretation of this claim would include parts of the South American mainland, the letters patent were clarified on 28 March 1917, redefining the limits to exclude all territories north of 58°S and west of 50°W, but to otherwise include all land in this region. Though the Argentine government were given details of the 1908 letters patent (at their request), neither Argentina nor Chile objected to either claim.

Origins of the Argentine claim

The Compañía Argentina de Pesca (CAP), an Argentine-registered whaling company run by Norwegian Carl Anton Larsen, was the first company to set up operations on South Georgia in 1904. This company founded the settlement of Grytviken and its employees (including Larsen himself) became the first permanent residents of the island. In 1905, the Argentine government authorised a weather station on the island. [http://www.cema.edu.ar/ceieg/arg-rree/7/7-104.htm Historia General de las Relaciones Exteriores de la República Argentina: Georgias del Sur] , Universidad del CEMA; accessed 5 July 2008]

In 1906, the CAP signed a lease with the Falkland Islands government, and following the 1908 annexation the company started to use British whaling licences and leases for land at Grytviken and Jason Harbour. Also in 1908, the CAP started looking to the South Sandwich Islands for the expansion of their business. [http://www.cema.edu.ar/ceieg/arg-rree/7/7-106.htm Historia General de las Relaciones Exteriores de la República Argentina: Sandwich del Sur] , Universidad del CEMA; accessed 5 July 2008] Larsen adopted British citizenship in 1910. Argentina's first explicit claim to South Georgia was made in 1927 and to the South Sandwich Islands in 1938.

Later developments

Following the Argentine claims, the UK repeatedly (in 1947, 1951, 1953 and 1954) offered to take the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague but this was turned down by Argentina. When Britain took the issue to the court unilaterally in 1955, Argentina declined to cooperate, citing a lack of juristriction. [http://www.wildisland.gs/atlantis/gettingitright.pdf Getting it right: the real history of the Falklands/Malvinas] , p34, Accessed 23 June 2008] The British divided the Falkland Islands dependencies in 1962, in accordance with the newly-signed Antarctic Treaty. Those areas south of 60°S became the British Antarctic Territory, while the remainder - South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands - retained their previous status. [http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/country-profiles/south-america/british-antarctic-territory?profile=history&pg=3 Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Country Profile: British Antarctic Territory - History] , accessed 2 July 2008]

Falklands War

Argentina established a military base, Corbeta Uruguay, on Thule Island at the far south of the South Sandwich Islands in November 1976. When this base was discovered by the British that December, the British protested diplomatically, and sent a task force (Operation Journeyman) to protect the Falkland Islands from potential invasion. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4597581.stm BBC News - Secret Falklands fleet revealed] , 1 June 2005; Accessed 2 July 2008]

On 19 March 1982, a group of 50 Argentines posing as scrap metal merchants landed at Leith Harbour on South Georgia aboard the ARA "Bahía Buen Suceso" and hoisted the Argentine flag. ["infiltrated on board, pretending to be scientists, were members of an Argentine naval special forces unit" Nick van der Bijl, "Nine Battles to Stanley", London, Leo Cooper P.8 as reported in Lawrence Freemdman, "The Official History of the Falklands Camapign: Vol I The Origins of the Falklands War"] ["Bahia Buen Suceso" set sail for South Georgia on 11 March carrying Argentine Marines" Rowland White, "Vulcan 607", London, Bantam Press, p30.] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/19/newsid_2543000/2543639.stm BBC On this day, 19 March 1982: Argentine flag hoisted on S Georgia] ; Accessed 2 July 2008] The British government responded by sending HMS "Endurance" with 22 Royal Marines to expel the Argentines, but they were held off to avoid increasing the tension. Further Argentine troops, lead by Lieutenant Alfredo Astiz (known as the "blood angel of death") were landed and the British set up a station to monitor the activities there. Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982 and took Grytviken the following day, leaving 44 marines. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_6730000/newsid_6732100/6732147.stm?bw=bb&mp=rm&news=1&bbcws=1 BBC Newsnight] ; 25 April 1982]

In response to the Argentine invasion, the British launched Operation Corporate (the recapture of the Falkland Islands) of which Operation Paraquet was part. Royal Marines retook Grytviken in two hours on 25 April 1982 using intelligence from the SBS who had infiltrated the island, following an attack on the ARA "Santa Fe" by Royal Naval helicopters. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/25/newsid_2503000/2503977.stm BBC On this day, 25 April 1982: Marines land in South Georgia] ; Accessed 2 July 2008] The garrison at Leith Harbour surrendered the following day, and Corbeta Uruguay surrendered on 20 June 1982. It was demolished that December.

Current status

Britain has administered South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands separately from the Falklands since the islands were made a British dependent territory in their own right in 1985. [http://www.sgisland.gs/index.php/(g)overview?useskin=gov Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands: Government overview] ; Accessed 5 July 2008] The status of the territory was altered by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and the terminology now used is "British overseas territory".

Argentina considers the islands to be part of the "Islas del Atlántico Sur" department of Tierra del Fuego Province. The claim to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is written into the 1994 Argentine constitution alongside the claim to the Falkland Islands. [http://www.cancilleria.gov.ar/portal/seree/malvinas/homeing.html Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores - The Malvinas Islands] ; Accessed 23 June 2008]

Current claims

Claims by Argentina

Argentina claims that:

*Argentina has, since 1884, protested every British action that it has known about that contradicted Argentine sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Claims by the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom claims that:
*The first landing on South Georgia was under Captain Cook in 1775.
*The United Kingdom annexed South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in 1908.
*Whaling stations on the islands (including the CAP) operated under British licence.
*The islands have been administered continuously by Britain since 1908, with the exception of the "illegal Argentine occupation" of 1982.

References

ee also

*Sovereignty of the Falkland Islands


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