Argentina’ icebreaker Almirante Irizar, docked for repairs since 2007 is en route to becoming another major scandal involving the Ministry of Defence and the Argentine Navy’s fleet. In the last six years Argentina has invested the equivalent of 200 million dollars in the recovery of the vessel that caught fire in 2007 and another 75 million dollars in contracting vessels to supply the Antarctic bases and stations.
Irizar remains at the government’s Tandanor dry-dock and with the money invested according to Argentine naval sources, ‘four second hand icebreakers could have been purchased or just one spending the rest in refurbishing to almost state or the art condition”.
The 15.000 tons Irizar caught fire on 10 April 2007 when returning from Antarctica some 250 kilometres east of Puerto Madryn and heading for Buenos Aires with its 296-strong crew. No lives were lost. With Nidia Garré as Defence minister, the government decided to recover the icebreaker and in the meantime contract the Russian polar vessel Vasily Golovnin, which this last season was replaced by the Dutch flagged Timca.
According to a report in La Nacion from columnist Mariano De Vedia, the Ministry of Defence supplied 491 million Pesos for Irizar repairs and the Navy another 90 million for additional safety conditions, but the vessel won’t be ready for the next Antarctic season, 2013/14, since the “most delicate and demanding part of the job (control panels) are still pending”.
The Tandanor dry dock was privatized by Carlos Menem and again nationalized by Nestor Kirchner and is part of a new “Argentine naval industrial complex”, Cinar
Naval experts estimate that if works are not given a faster rhythm, the future recovery of the vessel remains uncertain plus the 200 million pesos that are still needed.
Regarding the cost of a new icebreaker ready to sail for the next Antarctic season, according to Argentine naval sources, it would demand an investment of 20 to 50 million dollars. “Much depends on the instruments and equipments on board, and how updated they are”.
However the Nordic countries, “Norway, Sweden, Finland or even the former Soviet republics” could have a vessel that fulfils the tasks demanded by Argentina’s Antarctic campaign, point out the same sources. Irizar was built in 1977 in Finland and had all the ‘polar conditions’ needed for the job, something which the contracted Timca lacked thus frustrating Argentina’s 2012/13 Antarctic season and even worse leaving some of the Argentine bases allegedly with insufficient fuel and food for the winter months.
The difficult situation of the Argentine bases was exposed when a Uruguayan Air Force Hercules C130 had to fly in emergency supplies, on request from Argentina’s Ministry of Defence.
Finally according to De Vedia the complete collapse of this season’s Antarctic experience with the failed contracted vessel and helicopters that were unable to supply the Argentine bases and stations, adds to other disappointing incidents: the seizure and retention under injunction in Ghana during 77 days of the frigate Libertad; the corvette Espora stranded in South Africa for over two months because of generator failure; the sinking while docked in Puerto Belgrano of the destroyer Santisima Trinidad and the vessel Canal Beagle that suffered engine problems while sailing to Ushuaia last February.