Argentina has ordered the seizure of assets of five oil drilling companies operating in the Falkland Islands totaling $156 million in bank accounts, boats and other property, in addition to ordering the firms to stop their exploration activities.
The Argentine government said on Saturday that Lilian Herraez, a federal judge in Tierra del Fuego, ruled against Premier Oil Plc, Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd, Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Noble Energy Inc and Edison International SpA.
In recent years, oil and gas deposits were discovered near the Falkland Islands, which has reheated the debate over ownership of the territory.
Argentina had launched a lawsuit in April against five companies drilling for oil and gas off the Falkland Islands following a request of a prosecutor from the Office of Economic Crime and Money Laundering (PROCELAC).
At the time, Daniel Filmus - the Argentine government minister responsible for the islands - claimed “All exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons on the Argentine continental shelf without Argentine authorisation is illegal.”
“The Government of Argentina continues to ignore our inalienable right to determine our own future,” countered the Falkland Islands government, pointing out that “exploration drilling has been happening in Falkland Islands waters for years.”
The BBC reported that drilling for oil in the territorial waters around the Falklands began in 2010 despite opposition from Argentina.
Three of the five companies being sued are UK firms, one is American, and the fifth, Edison International SpA, is French-owned and based in Italy. A source with knowledge of the situation told Reuters that the companies do not generally hold any assets in Argentina or use Argentine waters.
The public prosecutor’s office said in a statement that investigators “had identified the assets of the foreign companies and discovered that one of them, US firm Noble Energy, has a local office registered in Argentina.” The statement said authorities would move to freeze those assets.
The statement went on to say “The foreign ministry will be notified of the court order so that by diplomatic means and in compliance with international treaties it can be carried out.”
The South Atlantic islands, referred to as Las Malvinas by Argentina, were the cause of a ten-week war between Britain and Argentina in 1982. They are now under British administration as an overseas territory.
The island, with around 3,000 residents, voted in a referendum in 2013 to remain under British rule.
Britain controls the islands’ defence and foreign policy, while the islands’ government administers the islands’ domestic affairs.
After the 2013 referendum, United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron said “[the islanders] want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including Argentina.”
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner countered, calling Britain “arrogant” and “bordering on stupidity” for not sitting at the table with Argentina to negotiate on the future of the Falklands.