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Almost an island paradise?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 02, 2012

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Media coverage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict over the next couple of months will be centred on the brave job our Armed Forces did against some formidable odds.

It wasn't obvious to those of us back home in 1982 what a close-run thing it had been. By June, we were celebrating a hard-won victory, but we could easily have suffered not only a heavy defeat but a massive blow to national morale.

Predictably in the lead-up to this year's anniversary, the Argentinian government has been sabre-rattling again; its diplomatic initiatives causing periodic minor ripples on the world stage while exciting its home audience in an obvious attempt to distract from its severe economic problems.

But what about the islanders themselves? What difference did the conflict make to their lives?

You could be forgiven for thinking that it was the best thing that could have happened to them.

In 1982, the Falklands economy was virtually reliant on sheep farming.

It was a hard living for the 1,800 people and 600,000 sheep who occupied an area two-thirds the size of Wales. There were few roads, no international airport and very little prospect of things improving.

Today things could not be more different, and not just because there might be huge deposits of oil in nearby waters.

Once the war was over, construction started on a new airport and base for a much larger force than the handful of Marines who had to face the Argentinian invasion.

British investment and British guidance transformed the economy within a few years.

A 150-mile fishing zone round the islands was created in 1986. Anyone wanting to fish inside the zone now needed a licence and to get that, they had to pay the Falklands government for the privilege.

And pay they have because the rich sea life including the popular squid has attracted Korean and Japanese boats year after year, yielding anything between £16 million and £22 million a year.

Tourism, however, is the most obvious sign of the transformation that has taken place since the 1982 war. Up to 50,000 cruise ship passengers a year call in on their way to or from Antartica.

The Falklands government nets a fee for every passenger who steps ashore at a specially created berth in Port Stanley. And canny locals have been quick to see the potential of selling all sorts of tours and souvenirs of their magnificent wildlife or the war. For those who don't wish to cruise, there is a twice-weekly flight from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire via Ascension Island or a once-a-week flight from Punta Arenas in Chile.

For the really intrepid wanting a holiday with a difference, you can rent an island for a week or two where you can do your birdwatching or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity surrounded by penguins and sea lions. They will fly you out with your supplies and leave you there as long as you wish.

The conflict transformed the capital, Stanley, which has doubled in size. Today, there is a thriving community which is showing all the signs of growing affluence with several millionaires within its ranks. The secondary school is as good as anything you will find in England and the same can be said for its hospital. At the last count, there were nearly 200 private companies supported by the Falkland Islands Development Corporation.

It is believed billions of barrels of oil are trapped beneath of the South Atlantic's ocean floor. Up to now, the cost of first of all finding it and then being able to bring it to the market has proved expensive, but a small oil exploration company called Rockhopper believes it has struck it rich with a find of 500 million recoverable barrels. It is now seeking partners and the required investment. If it does overcome the practical and political problems, then the 3,000 Falkland islanders are sitting on a financial bonanza.

Nine per cent royalties will have to be paid on the market value of any oil plus 26 per cent corporation tax on the profits thereafter. No wonder Argentina has been making threatening noises in the last six months.

The islanders are self-sufficient in everything but defence.

They run their own internal affairs through a ruling council and have regular elections. The governor represents the British Government but he does not have the powers a governor had pre-1982.

Taxes are lower and petrol cheaper than in the UK, but food more expensive.

If only the neighbours were a tad more friendly, then life would be very pleasant indeed.

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