Hundreds of Falkland Islands residents rushed to the beaches over the weekend after being declared landmine-free nearly four decades after the end of the Falklands War.
The last mines left by the Argentine forces in Gypsy Cove and Yorke Bay have been detonated, clearing the islands of an important reminder of the conflict.
Locals flocked to explore the beaches – considered some of the most beautiful areas on the islands – that have been banned since 1982 when Argentina planted the mines in Yorke Bay in anticipation of a British landing that didn’t materialize.
Hundreds of Falkland Islands residents flocked to the beaches this weekend after being definitively declared landmine-free nearly four decades after the 1982 Falklands War
Pictures showed people enjoying the sun in Yorke Bay on Saturday afternoon. The beauty mark has been closed since 1982
Resident Simon Benjamin and his partner Amy pose next to a now-defunct sign warning of landmines on Yorke Bay Beach
Resident Simon Benjamin snapped photos of the crowds enjoying themselves in Yorke Bay on Saturday afternoon after the final warning signs and fences were removed.
The 37-year-old car salesman said it was an “emotional day” for the islanders.
“You never expected to see the day you could go back to the beach,” he said.
Benjamin, who took the photos of locals enjoying the beaches, said it was an “emotional day” for islanders who many thought they could never walk the beaches
Despite the cool weather, hundreds flocked to the beaches on Saturday to celebrate that the Falkland Islands were mine-free
Yorke Bay is considered a beauty spot, but has been too dangerous for people for nearly forty years. In their absence, Magellanic penguins have settled. The birds are too light to trigger the landmines
British troops surrendered to Argentine forces at Port Stanley on April 2, 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in the hope that their recapture would increase support for the ruling military junta [File photo]
British soldiers fly the Union Jack in the Falkland Islands after a brief war with Argentina for the territory [File photo]
According to the BBC, Argentine forces have left an estimated 13,000 mines in the UK overseas territory.
On April 2nd, 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, over which it had claimed sovereignty for years.
The ruling military junta did not believe the UK would attempt to recapture the islands by force as they were about eight miles from the British Isles in the South Atlantic.
Britain and Argentina’s 10 Week War
Military leaders in Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982.
Argentine leaders believed that recapturing the territory would restore support from the ruling party at a time of economic crisis.
Britain had ruled the islands for 150 years, but the junta justified the invasion on the fact that Argentina had inherited the land from Spain in 1800, and cited the proximity of the Falkland Islands to South America as another reason.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set up a task force to fight on behalf of the traditionally British residents of the Falkland Islands.
In the short war that followed, 649 Argentines as well as 255 British soldiers and three islanders died.
After a tough naval battle, British forces landed north of Stanley before fighting their way into the capital. The Argentines capitulated on June 14th
However, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched a task force to reach the islands in early May.
Yorke Bay was severely degraded as a likely location for a British landing was expected due to its proximity to the capital Stanley and the airport.
In fact, British forces approached Stanley from land – meaning the mines in the ground had not detonated – as part of a land, air and sea attack.
Argentina surrendered on June 14, ending the 74-day conflict in which 907 people were killed.
Rival claims to the Falkland Islands continue to hamper British-Argentine relations and, depending on how the two countries are run, tensions regularly arise.
The expansion of the sand dunes on the beach made plans to remove the mines difficult for years. Sand shifts meant that some explosives could be buried deeper while others were brought to the surface.
The uninhabited beaches have become a nature reserve for the native Magellanic penguins.
The birds, too light to start the mines on their own, have flourished with no human activity and have become a draw for tourists to view from afar.
Land mines are prohibited under the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Use, Storage, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction – also known as the Mine Prohibition Treaty.
More than 150 countries have signed the treaty and committed to eradicating mines from their territories.
As part of Britain’s commitments to the Convention, efforts have been made since 2009 to clear the now illegal mines in the Falkland Islands.
Demining teams from Zimbabwe were recruited to assist UK companies SafeLane Global and Fenix Insight with the detonations and work in the challenging weather conditions of the windswept islands.
SafeLane Global’s team included Technical Director John Hare, a Falklands veteran who was wounded during the conflict.
A photo by SafeLane Global, one of the UK companies coordinating demining efforts in the Falkland Islands, shows the detonation of the last mine on the territory
SafeLane Global Technical Director John Hare introduces the final detonation. Hare is a Falklands veteran who was wounded during the conflict
Locals and police watch the final mine detonate in Yorke Bay on Saturday afternoon before heading down to the beach
An estimated 13,000 mines were left on the islands by the Argentine forces during the conflict with Great Britain in 1982. Pictured: The residents watch the final detonations of the mines on Saturday
Specialized demining teams from Zimbabwe have teamed up with the British companies SafeLane Global and Fenix Insight to free the Falkland Islands from landmines in 2009. Pictured: Zimbabweans search for mines in Stanley in 2019 [File photo]
A Zimbabwean specialist cleared debris from a minefield in 2012 before an armored, explosion-proof vehicle inspected the area [File photo]