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Fighting words from Britain over ‘insult’ to Cunard flag

February 17, 2014 Cruise, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Britain’s Foreign Office says a Cunard cruise ship has been threatened after flying a British flag while in port in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Britain's Red Ensign or 'Red Duster' is shown in this World War II poster

Britain’s Red Ensign or ‘Red Duster’ is shown in this World War II poster

Argentina and Britain went to war in 1982 after Argentina seized and occupied the Falkland Islands, one of Britain’s last remaining overseas territories, located in the South Atlantic. Although Britain won decisively, ill-feeling remains and Argentina still claims sovereignty over the Falklands, which it calls Islas Malvinas.

In the latest incident, the captain of Cunard’s liner Queen Victoria was told he faced a heavy fine if he continued to fly the Red Ensign – the flag of Britain’s merchant fleet and nicknamed the ‘Red Duster’– while in the port, Britain’s Channel 4 News reported.

Perhaps unfortunately for Argentina, the former head of Britain’s Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, was a passenger aboard Queen Victoria. He took exception to the action and described it as “an insult to the nation”.

“After we’d gone round Cape Horn I was at dinner with the captain, and the captain said to me that when they were in Buenos Aires that the ship had basically been threatened with a very punitive fine – about 10,000 US dollars – and also told there would be ‘trouble’ in inverted commas – not specified – if he didn’t take down the red ensign which the ship flies,” he told Channel 4 News in Britain.

The Guardian quoted a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office saying: “We condemn any attempts by the Argentine authorities to unnecessarily interfere with the legitimate transit of UK-flagged vessels. This appears to be another example of unacceptable harassment and intimidation.

“We robustly defend UK interests against any attempts by the government of Argentina to disrupt any lawful commercial activity. We are urgently discussing the matter with Carnival UK (Cunard’s parent company) and will raise this with the Argentine authorities.”

The Red Ensign (which has a Union Jack flag in the upper left corner, as does the Australian flag) originated in the early 17th century as an English ensign flown by the Royal Navy and later specifically by British merchant seamen (the British Merchant Navy). It is currently used as the civil ensign of the United Kingdom.

The Falklands War of 1982 saw two separate British naval task forces (one of surface vessels and the other of submarines) clash with the Argentine fleet. Britain’s nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror fired two torpedoes into the Argentine warship General Belgrano on 2 May 1982, killing over 200 sailors almost instantly and swiftly sinking the ship. In all, 323 of the General Belgrano’s crew died at sea while over 700 other crew were rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather.

In all, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and 3 Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities, so tension about flags and symbolism still runs high.

Written by Peter Needham

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