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Stranded Argentine naval surgeon back for Christmas

Friday, December 20th 2002 - 20:00 UTC
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Six months after volunteering to remain aboard a German transport vessel stranded in Antarctica an Argentine Navy doctor is scheduled to return home in time for Christmas

The Argentine Navy announced today that Surgeon-Lieutenant Juan Carlos Campana is expected to arrive back in Buenos Aires over the weekend proceeding from South Africa after disembarking from the Magdalena Oldendorff, the German transport vessel that had been trapped in the ice pack off the Antarctica coast since June 11.

In July the Argentine Navy mounted a major rescue operation code-named Operation Southern Cross which consisted in dispatching the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irizar at short notice to try to reach the stranded Oldendorff before the winter closed in and made reaching the vessel impossible.

After a two week voyage through appalling South Atlantic weather the Irizar succeeded in reaching the 21.000-ton ice class Multi Ro-Ro vessel Magdalena Oldendorff at longitud one degree East, latitud 69 degrees South, an unprecedented voyage which included a gruelling 100-mile passage through six metre thick ice to deliver fuel and supplies to the stranded vessel.

Surgeon-Lieutenant Campana volunteered to remain aboard the trapped German vessel to provide medical assistance to the vessel's skeleton crew until the ice thawed and the ship was able to reach open waters.

The Oldendorff, which is owned by the German Oldendorff Group was carrying a crew of 26 and 71 Russian scientists returning from Antarctic research stations when it was caught in the ice just off the Antarctic coast on June 11 at a site some 4.000-km (2.300 nautical miles) due south of Cape Town and 1.500 miles north of the South Pole. In early July two South African Navy Oryx helicopters successfully airlifted the 71 Russian scientists from the Oldendorff flying them back to the South African Antarctic Supply ? Oceanographic Research vessel MV SA Agulhas. The helicopters also delivered some 2.000-kg of badly needed supplies to the 26 strong crew remaining on board the vessel.

On July 17 the Irizar was able to smash its way through ice of up to six metres thick and re-supply the German vessel but due to the appalling weather conditions the Argentine icebreaker was unable to establish a route through the ice for the Oldendorff to sail to open waters. It was then escorted to a secluded inlet where it was able to sit out the Antarctic winter.

The Irizar was built for the Argentine Navy in Finland in the 1970's and is the only icebreaker permanently based in the Southern Hemisphere. It is named after Argentine Navy Lieutenant Julian Irizar, who 100 years ago succeeded in rescuing a Swedish scientific expedition stranded on Antarctica.

Over the last two decades the Irizar has carried out 27 Antarctic campaigns and has taken part in several successful rescue operations in Antarctic waters, but never is such adverse conditions or in such a remote location.

Nicholas Tozer (MP) Buenos Aires

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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