The off-shore patrol vessel HMS Clyde confronted the Argentine survey ship, ARA Puerto Deseado, after it headed into the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands prompting many to speculate that the vessel tried to spy on military defences.
The Argentinian vessel, armed with equipment to survey the ocean and seabed, switched off its AIS tracking system and without any warning approached the British territorial waters.
The ship navigated past the 12-mile territorial mark, leading the Royal Navy to immediately send the ‘on station’ patrol vessel HMS Clyde in order to intercept the Argentinian vessel and find out what its intentions were.
The Argentinian vessel changed its course away from HMS Clyde and turned its AIS tracking back on meaning that it was no longer ‘hiding’ from shipping. The ARA Puerto Deseado returned back to the port the following day.
This latest encounter threatens to raise tensions between Britain and Argentina.
Former captain of frigate HMS St Albans, Commander Tom Sharpe insisted the Argentinian ship was looking for oil, praising the swift response from the Royal Navy.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “Not intercepting for fear of being seen to overreact or, worse still, because of insufficient resources – using ‘not wishing to over-react’ as an excuse – is unacceptable and a road we have trodden before in this part of the world.
“This type of operation is precisely what navies should do.
“Do we need a frigate or destroyer in the South Atlantic all the time? Not necessarily.
“This in no way should take anything from the excellent HMS Clyde, operating alone and unafraid around the clock in some of the most hostile waters on the planet.”
Nick Childs of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the incident was fairly minor compared to military prodding that happened after the Falklands War.
However, he said “the maritime domain is increasingly contested globally and this incident shows how the Navy is increasingly being pulled in all sorts of directions at the same time with limited resources”.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “This was unusual activity rather than illegal or confrontational. We are comfortable with vessels working in that area, but it was the course and speed [of the Argentinian ship] towards the islands which was unusual”.
Puerto Deseado was built by Astilleros Argentinos Río de la Plata (Astarsa) shipyard in Tigre, Buenos Aires and commissioned into the Argentine Navy in 1978.
She was the first navy ship to be named upon the city of Puerto Deseado in the patagonian Santa Cruz province.
During the 1982 Falklands War she served as hospital ship.
On 2003 she participated on the unsuccessful attempt to find the sunken cruiser ARA General Belgrano along with a National Geographic team on the vessel Seacor Lenga.
HMS Clyde (pennant number P257) is an offshore patrol vessel and is the tenth ship in the Royal Navy to bear the name.
She was launched on 14 June 2006 in Portsmouth Naval Base by VT Group shipbuilders in Portsmouth, England, and is the fourth vessel of the River class, with a displacement of 2,000 tonnes and a 30 mm Oerlikon KCB gun in place of the 20 mm gun fitted to Tyne River-class ships.
There is always a ship from the Royal Navy that remains in the waters surrounding the Falklands.