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United Kingdom

Last Updated: 16 December 2012

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact

Mines

The United Kingdom (UK) is affected by antipersonnel mines by virtue of its control and assertion of full sovereignty over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas,[1] which were contaminated during the armed conflict between the UK and Argentina in 1982. The conflict resulted in many thousands of antipersonnel and antivehicle mines being laid on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, most by Argentina. Following land release in 2011–2012 (see below), it is believed that 113 mined areas remain to be released, covering a total area of more than 9km2, and which contain some 19,000 mines.[2]

No human casualties from mines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been reported in the Falkland Islands/Malvinas since 1984. The UK has reported that six military personnel were injured in 1982 and two more were injured in 1983. Most military accidents took place while clearing the minefields in the immediate aftermath of the 1982 conflict or in the process of trying to establish the extent of the minefield perimeters, particularly where no detailed records existed.

No civilian mine casualties have ever occurred on the islands.[3] Over the years, however, there have been numerous instances where civilians have deliberately or inadvertently entered a minefield. The Ministry of Defence has reported “infringement” of minefields by a total of six locals and 15 foreign fishermen or tourists between March 2000 and December 2008.[4] On 6 December 2008, three crew members of a Belgian yacht inadvertently entered a minefield at Kidney Cove on East Falklands but were not injured. In October 2002, a Falkland Islander was fined £1,000 (then US$1,503) for entering a minefield on Goose Green.[5] It is a criminal offense on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas to enter a minefield.

The socio-economic impact of contamination in the Falkland Islands/Malvinas is said to be minimal. All mined and suspected hazardous areas are reported to have been “perimeter-marked and are regularly monitored and protected by quality stock proof fencing, to ensure the effective exclusion of civilians.”[6] According to the UK, the mined areas represent “only 0.1% of land used for farming. The mined areas cover a wide range of terrain including sandy beaches and dunes, mountains, rock screes, dry peat, wet swampy peat, and pasture land.”[7] A number of instances of cattle, sheep, or horses entering the minefields have been recorded since 2000, some of which resulted in the animal’s deaths.[8]

Cluster munition remnants

There are an unknown number of cluster munition remnants on the Falklands Islands/Malvinas as a result of use of BL755 cluster bombs by the UK against Argentine positions during the 1982 armed conflict.

In February 2009, in a letter to Landmine Action, the Ministry of Defence stated the following: “According to historical records either 106 or 107 Cluster Bomb Units (CBU) were dropped by British Harriers and Sea Harriers during the conflict. Each CBU contains 147 BL755 submunitions and using the higher CBU figure (107), a total of 15,729 sub-munitions were dropped. Using a 6.4% failure rate assessed during in-service surveillance over 15 years, we would estimate that 1,006 would not explode. Given that 1,378 BL 755s were cleared in the first year after the conflict and that a further 120 have been found and disposed of since (totaling 1,498), clearly there was a slightly higher failure rate. Even if the rate had been closer to 10% and 1,573 had failed, we can only estimate that some 70 remain but that due to the very soft nature of the peat found on the islands, many of these will have been buried well below the surface. We believe that the majority of those remaining are now contained within existing minefields and these will be cleared in due course.”[9]

Clearance operations in 2009–2010 across four mined areas destroyed two submunitions.[10]

Other explosive remnants of war

The precise extent of other explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas is not known, though a number of UXO are believed to remain to be cleared. Clearance operations in 2009–2010 across four mined areas encountered and destroyed 11 ERW, including the two unexploded submunitions noted above.[11] The UK has also noted the presence of booby-traps on the islands.[12]

Mine Action Program

Key institutions and operators

Body

Situation on 1 January 2012

National Mine Action Authority

NMAA

Mine action center

Falkland Islands DPO

National demining operator

None

A National Mine Action Authority (NMAA) composed of both the UK and the Falkland Islands governments was established in 2009 to oversee clearance of mined areas on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas.[13] The Ninth Meeting of States Parties noted the UK’s undertaking to provide regular reports on the establishment of an NMAA “and other implementation bodies.”[14]

In May 2009, the UK issued a request to tender for the Falkland Islands Demining Programme Office (DPO). The role of the DPO is to execute the policies of the NMAA and to coordinate mine action activities on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas.[15] In August 2009, the contract to establish the DPO was awarded to Colin King Associates,[16] which subsequently set up the Office at Tenacres, south of Stanley.[17]

In mid-October 2009, it was announced that the organization Battle Area Clearance, Training, Equipment and Consultancy International Limited (BACTEC) had been awarded the contract to clear four sites at Fox Bay (East), Goose Green, Sapper Hill, and Surf Bay (near the airport).[18] Operations were initiated at the beginning of December 2009.[19] BACTEC left the islands in 2010, but returned in 2011 for a land release project.[20]

Land Release

The first formal clearance operations since the UK became a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty in 1999 took place at the end of 2009 through April 2010. Four sites were cleared, destroying a total of 1,246 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines.[21] Operations generally used manual techniques, although a mechanical unit was deployed to one site to accelerate clearance in sandy areas.[22] Since then, no mines have been cleared on the islands. A survey project in 2011–2012 canceled/released 3.7km2 of suspect hazardous area.[23]

Mine clearance in 2011

No mines were cleared during the land release work in 2011–2012.[24]

Compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty

Under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty (and in accordance with the 10-year extension request granted by the Ninth Meeting of States Parties in November 2008), the UK is required to destroy all antipersonnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible but not later than 1 March 2019.

Following opposition from a number of States Parties, as well as the ICBL and ICRC, to the UK’s blanket 10-year extension request at its initial presentation, the UK had revised its request to make it explicit that Scenario 5 of the Field Survey (part of the Feasibility Study conducted by Cranfield University) was its clearance plan for fulfillment of its Article 5 obligations.[25] Scenario 5 proposed clearance of all mined areas on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas within a 10-year period, beginning with the establishment of a project office on the Falkland Islands/Malvinas and ending with the handover of all cleared land to a fully-fledged mine action center.[26] The UK decided to disregard the Field Survey’s recommendation for trials of clearance methods and to proceed directly to full clearance.[27]

While “a number of substantive concerns were raised,” the Ninth Meeting of States Parties decided to grant the request for an extension until 1 March 2019. The meeting took note of the UK’s agreement to provide as soon as possible (but not later than 30 June 2010) a detailed explanation of how demining is proceeding and the implications for future demining in order to meet the UK’s obligations under Article 5.[28] The meeting also noted that the UK will keep the possibility of reducing the time necessary to fulfill its obligations under annual review. A number of States Parties expressed the wish that the UK proceed with the implementation of Article 5 much faster than suggested by the amount of time requested.[29]

At the June 2010 intersessional Standing Committee meetings, the UK stated, “We are delighted to announce that the 4-site pilot project started on 4 December 2009, completed on 4 June.”[30] The UK stated that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) “will now analyse the data gathered from this project and make recommendations for future work based on this analysis to the new Government. We intend to report the findings of our analysis and agreed next steps to States Parties at the Meeting of States Parties in November 2010.”[31]

The UK did not announce any further clearance plans at the Tenth Meeting of States Parties. In a statement to the meeting, the ICBL regretted the failure of the UK to meet its undertaking to provide “as soon as possible, but not later than 30 June 2010 a detailed explanation of … the implications for future demining” in order to meet the UK’s obligations under Article 5 of the treaty.[32]

The UK still has more than 110 mined areas to clear or otherwise release in less than seven years. The ICBL has called upon the UK to provide a concrete plan and budget for fulfilling its Article 5 clearance obligations. It has also reiterated that affected States Parties must clear all mined areas, not only those with a humanitarian impact.[33] In response, in June 2011 the UK stated that it had planned a two-year pilot project in its extension request before it would be in a position to set out a full plan to meet its legal obligations.[34] 

Compliance with Article 4 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Under Article 4 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the UK is required to destroy all cluster munition remnants in areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible, but not later than 1 November 2020.

As noted above, the Falkland Islands/Malvinas are believed to be still affected to a limited extent by unexploded submunitions. In its initial Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 report, the UK states that “there are no UK areas contaminated by cluster munitions or explosive sub-munitions.”[35] The UK seems to consider the possible contamination in the Falklands to be residual in nature and not amenable to being addressed in terms of “contaminated areas.” With significant amounts of clearance already completed, such an assessment may be reasonable. This assessment could be further clarified by the release of any data on the locations of strikes using BL-755 cluster munitions to determine if any strikes were targeted inside the mined areas. Any strike sites inside mined areas would likely not have been addressed in the earlier phase of clearance due to the challenge of access.

Quality management

The clearance program was said to be working to a set of National Mine Action Standards (NMAS), originally drafted by Cranfield University and closely related to International Mine Action Standards. Following award of the contract for the DPO, a full review of NMAS was carried out and a number of amendments to points of detail were recommended for consideration by the NMAA based in London.[36]

The DPO conducted quality control over BACTEC’s demining activities to ensure that they met the required standards.[37]

 



[1] There is a sovereignty dispute over the Falklands Islands/Malvinas with Argentina.

[2] UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, 30 May 2008, p. 2. The estimate of the number of mines remaining to be cleared was higher than the 16,000 reported by Argentina in 2006. See Argentina Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report, Form C, 4 May 2006.

[3] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 27 May 2009.

[4] Letter from Permanent Joint Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence to Landmine Action, 16 February 2009.

[5] Lisa Johnson, “Lucky minefield incident for landing crew in Falklands,” MercoPress, 9 December 2008, www.mercopress.com.

[6] UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, Executive Summary, 14 November 2008, p. 1.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Letter from Permanent Joint Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence to Landmine Action, 16 February 2009.

[9] Letter from Lt.-Col. Scott Malina-Derben, Ministry of Defence, 6 February 2009.

[10] Statement of the UK, Tenth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 1 December 2010.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See, for example, Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report, Form C, 2 April 2007.

[13] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 27 May 2009.

[14] Decision on the UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 28 November 2008.

[15] FCO, “UK-London: mine sweeping services 2009/S 97-140126, Contract Notice,” 19 May 2009.

[16] Email from Colin King, Programme Manager, DPO, 19 November 2009.

[17] Juanita Brock, “Falklands: Falklands are ‘Go’ for Demining,” Falkland Islands News Network, 13 October 2009, www.falklandnews.com/public/story.cfm?get=5512&source=3.

[18] BACTEC, “BACTEC Awarded Falkland Islands Project,” 20 October 2009, www.bactec.com

[19] “Mine Clearance Begins In The Falklands,” Blog of UK Amb. John Duncan, www.flickr.com.  

[20] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 22 May 2012.

[21] Email from Kathryn Lindsay, Policy Officer, FCO, 3 March 2010; Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, 21 June 2011; and “First minefield cleared in Falkland Islands – thanks to Zimbabweans,” MercoPress, 25 March 2010, http://en.mercopress.com.

[22] Email from Kathryn Lindsay, FCO, 3 March 2010.

[23] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 22 May 2012.

[24] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2011); and Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 22 May 2012.

[25] Decision on the UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 28 November 2008.

[26] Cranfield University, “Field Survey to Examine the Feasibility of Clearing Landmines in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas),” 9 July 2007, Executive Summary.

[27] Statement of the UK, Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 26 November 2008.

[28] Decision on the UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 28 November 2008.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, 22 June 2010.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Decision on the UK Article 5 deadline Extension Request, Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 28 November 2008.

[33] Statement of ICBL, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, 21 June 2011.

[34] Statement of the UK, Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, 21 June 2011. Notes by the ICBL.

[35] Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, 28 April 2011, p. 19.

[36] Email from Kathryn Lindsay, FCO, 3 March 2010.

[37] Juanita Brock, “Falklands: Falklands are ‘Go’ for Demining,” Falkland Islands News Network, 13 October 2009, www.falklandnews.com/public/story.cfm?get=5512&source=3.