The Argentine government is putting pressure on contractors so that the Navy's flagship icebreaker Almirante Irizar, partially destroyed by fire in 2007, can begin sea trials later this year. However over-costs and mismanagement of the funds invested, estimated at over 650 million dollars, could have purchased a new vessel of three second hand according to critics in Congress.
The Irizar has been doing the Antarctica campaign for the last three decades but was knocked out of action following a devastating fire seven years ago, and has forced Argentina to pay over 60 million dollars in renting other icebreakers to complete the supply and maintenance of its bases and stations.
Repairs have been completed 90%, and the speed of recovery has been significant since Agustín Rossi took over the Defense ministry, but despite his commitment and determination, the mismanagement of his predecessor in the job, Arturo Puricelli are still a formidable obstacle.
According to the latest reports from opposition lawmaker Julio Martínez who has been following the case for several years, a raft of malfunctions have been detected in the repairs among which, and probably the most serious, the welding performed in the hull are not sufficiently resistant for icebreaking; 66.000 meters of cable have yet to be installed in the vessel and the blueprints with which the repairs are been made are not the definitive.
This means that most probably the Irizar won't approve sea and ice trials, besides the fact that the current contract expires at the end of this month, and even when the government's Tandanor shipyards are expected to take over the responsibility, it is not certain they have the qualified tradesmen for some of the finishing tasks.
One of the many lawmaker Martinez' reports shows that Tandanor and the Argentine Navy spent almost 326 million Pesos in repairs with not many details on how the money was spent. Two additional contracts were signed involving 137.5 million and 70 million Pesos, totaling over 533 million Pesos, which at the current official exchange rate would represent over 650 million dollars.
To this must be added the leasing of Russian icebreakers and helicopters to complete the basic Antarctica campaigns, which nevertheless apparently in some cases arrived late with some supplies and fuel, when not insufficient.
Last April in a release signed by Minister Rossi, his office said that the reconstruction and refurbishing of the Irizar was 90% completed and at the end of May she would begin water trials and by the end of the year sea and ice trials. This would mean the flagship would be ready for the 2014/15 Antarctica campaign.
The release added that 250 Argentine workers are involved every day in the reconstruction together with another 200 from contractors which adds up to over 1.2 million man-hours. However none of that has happened, so far.