Buenos Aires province devises its own Falklands ship ban

BUENOS AIRES Thu Aug 2, 2012 6:48pm EDT

A ''Welcome to the Falkland Islands'' sign is seen at the end of a pier along the coast of Port Stanley March 17, 2012. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

A ''Welcome to the Falkland Islands'' sign is seen at the end of a pier along the coast of Port Stanley March 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Buenos Aires province passed a bill on Thursday to prohibit ships involved in business activities off the disputed Falkland Islands from mooring at its ports, part of Argentina's drive to discourage oil exploration in the area.

Argentina had already banned ships flying the Falklands flag from stopping at the country's ports. The regional Mercosur trade group backed the move.

President Cristina Fernandez has launched a wide-ranging diplomatic offensive to assert Argentina's claims to the British-ruled islands 30 years after the Falklands war. She has accused London of maintaining "colonial enclaves" and demanded sovereignty talks - which Britain has rejected.

The South American country has also threatened legal action against companies searching for oil and gas off the islands, known as the Malvinas in Spanish.

The bill approved by provincial lawmakers in Buenos Aires, the country's most populous district, is aimed at keeping ships from obtaining supplies or raw materials in Argentina that could be used in energy exploration or the fishing industry off the Falklands.

"The law prohibits any ship with a U.K. flag or other flag of convenience that comes to the area of the Malvinas to explore or exploit natural resources from mooring, anchoring or getting logistical help," said the bill's sponsor, Patricia Cubria.

The broadly backed bill must be signed into law by Gov. Daniel Scioli, a member of the ruling Peronist party. Other Argentine provinces with Atlantic Ocean ports have taken similar steps.

Cubria said the measure would not affect cruise ships or other vessels used for tourism.

Two sources with knowledge of the shipping sector said the province's move is largely symbolic since ships en route to the Falklands rarely stop in Argentina.

The islands' 3,000 inhabitants are planning a referendum on whether they want to stay part of Britain's self-governing overseas territories, a step designed to outflank Argentina's sovereignty claims.

(Reporting by Guido Nejamkis; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by David Gregorio)

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