Argentina decided to charter a Russian icebreaker to supply its Antarctic bases this coming summer replacing its own Almirante Irizar which caught fire in the high seas last April and is currently on a long process of repairs and recovery, reported Wednesday the Buenos Aires press.
Icebreaker "Vasiliy Golovnin" is operated by the Far Eastern Shipping Company, FRESCO, a private company seated in Vladivostok, Russia's main port in the Pacific next to Japan and China and nine hours flight from Moscow. Next week three Argentine Navy officers are scheduled to fly to Vladivostok to check the icebreaker's conditions and make sure it complies with international navigation rules and technical requisites for an Antarctic season. Icebreaker "Golovnin" carries a heavy duty helicopter to link with Antarctic bases and stations and was contracted for similar duties by Australia. Argentina's Antarctic Institute Director Mariano Mémolli confirmed that the idea is to rent the icebreaker during December and January with the purpose of supplying Marambio base mainly with fuel. Marambio consumes a million liters of fuel annually. Mémolli said chartering the icebreaker could cost in the range of 4 million US dollars. However it's not certain how far south the "Golovnin" could sail particularly since Argentina's most austral permanent base, Belgrano II is 3.000 kilometers from South America and 1.300 kilometers from the South Pole. In case the "Golovnin" can't approach the base for the replacement of the 16 permanent personnel, Mémolli said Argentina was thinking in renting a converted DC 3 specially equipped with skis to operate on ice, which regularly flies to Antarctica in support of South Africa's bases and stations. "If we manage to fulfill our commitments with Marambio and Belgrano II, we should be able to complete the whole Antarctic scientific activities contemplated in the 2007 Antarctic Plan", underlined Mémolli. According to the plan 140 scientists are scheduled to travel to Antarctica to work in 50 research projects undertaken by Argentina's Antarctic Institute. The coming Antarctic campaign was considered this week in the Argentine Foreign Affairs Office. The meeting was headed by Deputy minister Roberto Garcia Moritan together with Mémolli, Deputy Defence Secretary Alfredo Forti and several top ranking military officers since the Argentine Armed Forces are responsible for the Antarctic operations logistics. When the "Irizar", which is the symbol of Argentina's Antarctic operations, caught fire and was forcibly left idle in April Britain offered to help with HMS Endurance. However since HMS Endurance "is also involved in patrolling the Falklands/Malvinas islands area" the decision to charter the Russian icebreaker was two fold, technical and political, given the pending "sovereignty dispute" over the Falkland Islands and Antarctic territories, although under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty all territorial claims have been frozen, reports the Argentine press quoting "diplomatic sources".