Friday, October 1, 2010

Stanley Harbour to Dársena Sur? The "Black Pig" Returns

Nobody will ever duplicate the photograph below, of Ross Road in the Falkland Islands’ capital of Stanley, because the vantage point from which it was taken no longer exists - well, it does still exist, but it’s now in Buenos Aires. That, of course, requires some explanation.

In 1986-7, when I spent a year-plus as a Fulbright-Hays scholar in the Islands, there were still many reminders of the 74-day war that began in April 1982, when Argentina’s tottering military dictatorship bought themselves a few extra months in power by invading and occupying the remote South Atlantic archipelago, which Argentines know as the Malvinas. I have no desire to go into the rights and wrongs of British colonialism and Argentine irredentism here, but only to point out that the war left a palpable impact on the islands - many of the minefields planted to deter the British counter-invasion, for instance, still remain on the beaches at Gypsy Cove (near Stanley) and other locations.

Other impacts, though, were more transitory, and one of those was the 494-ton oil tender known as the Yehuin, which was left in Stanley Harbour after Argentine forces surrendered. Viewed as military surplus, the homely “Black Pig” (so called for its paint job) briefly belonged to an English friend of mine who often puttered around the water to the consternation of the local harbormaster, who considered that the vessel was not seaworthy and that my friend - a talented jack-of-all-trades - was not qualified to sail it.

In my last months in Stanley, the Black Pig was docked at the Falkland Islands Company jetty at the east end of Ross Road and, one fine clear day, I walked aboard the ship and climbed the mast to take the photograph above, which looks west. As Stanley is a town of low-slung houses, this was the only place in town to gain an aerial perspective on its main commercial street, which looks very different nearly a quarter century later.

At some point, though, the ex-Yehuin was again sold off to Spain’s Cintra company and, now Panama-flagged as the Audax II, it showed up in Buenos Aires’s Dársena Sur port area a couple weeks ago. There, a ragtag “Resistencia Patriótica” (Patriotic Resistance) symbolically reclaimed the ship by tagging it with spray paint Peronist scribbles - an event which they commemorated with a Youtube video (see below) that borders on self-parody - raising an Argentine flag, for instance, on the same mast I climbed for my photograph. Of course, acknowledging international maritime tradition, the ship was already flying an Argentine flag.

Apparently, in fact, there was a 1999 decree to declare the Yehuin part of the country’s naval heritage, but no congressional action ever implemented the measure. The Resistencia Patriótica, meanwhile, has asked a federal judge to impound it but, for my part, I’m simply pleased the Black Pig was there when I needed it.

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