A BRITISH naval vessel is trapped in dock in Argentina after strike action by local workers prevented essential repairs being carried out.
HMS Endurance - successor to the ship which played a key role in the Falklands war - was forced to seek assistance from the Argentinian dockyard at Puerto Belgrano after damaging its rudder while conducting survey work in Antarctica.
But civilian workers at the port have now gone on strike and are picketing the dockyard, bringing repair work to a halt.
Some of the ship's crew were on board when the strike started, while others were staying in hotel accommodation in the city. It is understood that those outside the port are now unable to rejoin their vessel.
Yesterday the Ministry of Defence confirmed that Endurance was unable to leave port. A spokesman said the strike started on Saturday and had prevented any further work taking place on the stricken ice-patrol vessel.
"It can't leave at the moment," the spokesman said. "We are looking at our options, but at the moment we won't be working on it."
The strike is believed to have been called over local grievances and has nothing to do with the presence of the British ship in the port. Workers, however, are thought to regard Endurance as a useful bargaining tool in their negotiations with employers.
It is the first time that Argentina has allowed a British warship to seek help since the 1982 Falklands war. The Argentine navy has agreed to assist in the repair of the rudder system.
In January, Endurance became the first Royal Navy ship to visit an Argentine port since the start of the war, but the visit to Ushuaia proved controversial and provoked protests in Argentina.
Relations between Britain and Argentina remain strained because of the continuing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas.
Britain has noted a build-up in Argentine military strength and there have been a series of low-level incidents to prompt some concern in recent months.
The Argentine air force has doubled in size since the Falklands war, with some military observers questioning the need for such a considerable force, and there have been several attempts to test out the RAF defences.
The original HMS Endurance played a key role in the Falklands war. It had been due to be scrapped as part of a round of defence cuts, but was dispatched to South Georgia when that island was seized by Argentina, landing a party of marines before moving back into Falklands waters.
The ship played a key role in an attack on the submarine Santa Fe, and remained on duty after the Argentine surrender.
The current ship is an icebreaker which was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1992.
It spends the winter months in the South Atlantic carrying out duties for a number of organisations including the British Antarctic Survey and the Foreign Office.
The last report from the ship, on 13 March, gave its position and a message from a crew member noted that they had started their return trip to Portsmouth.
No mention was made of the unplanned detour to Argentina.