The Chilean Navy icebreaker is scheduled to be decommissioned in four years time so “we are in the task of considering a replacement” revealed Third Naval Zone Commander Rear Admiral Rafael Gonzalez during a press conference in Punta Arenas to review results of the last Antarctic season.
“Almirante Vial’s time is up in 2015 and it is important for Chile to enhance our presence and conditions as an Antarctic nation, so we need to buy a new icebreaker”, said the Navy officer. However the cost of a new vessel equipped state of the art for scientific research in sub freezing conditions is in the “range of 250 million US dollars”.
“An adequate replacement is even more imperative since the Antarctic Policy Council agreed to increase the Chilean presence in Antarctica, both at sea and the continent, which means more scientific activities, conservation, looking after the environment and a little bit of sovereignty, showing the flag”, explained the head of the Naval post in Punta Arenas, allegedly paraphrasing Chilean Ministry of Defence Andres Allamand, who chairs the council together with Foreign Affairs minister Alfredo Moreno and Finance Minister, Felipe Larraín.
The Council meeting which launched Chile’s Antarctica Strategic Plan was held symbolically in Puerto Williams, Tierra del Fuego earlier this week. The next meeting of the council is scheduled to take place in Santiago and will be chaired by President Sebastián Piñera.
R/Adrmiral Gonzalez said that Chilean Armed Forces are expecting a budget increase to help support the extra scientific activities planned for Antarctica.
Regarding the last Antarctic campaign R/Admiral Gonzalez said that during the months of November to April the Navy’s two vessels Alrmirante Viel and Lautaro supplied the logistics for the scientific research effort that included taking 650 people to the different Antarctic bases, of which half were scientists and experts in different fields. Over 2.000 tons of cargo and 1.7 million litres of fuel were transported for Chilean and foreign bases.
The Chilean Navy also provided sea and air support for the visit to Antarctica of the Chilean and Ecuadorean presidents, Sebastián Piñera and guest Rafael Correa on his first trip to the extreme south. The Ecuadorean base of Maldonado depends on Chilean logistics for its operations.
The two vessels were also involved in helping with repairs at the Arturo Prat base and sea-bed sounding and charting for Chiles’s Hydro-graphic and Oceanographic Service.
Finally one of the mandatory duties for Antarctic treaty members, clearing garbage and sending it back to the continent.
“This season we brought over more than 100 tons, which is double the volume we were working with two decades ago and gives an idea of the increased activities”, said Captain Jorge Montenegro from the Navy’s icebreaker Almirante Viel.
The Chilean Navy icebreaker in service since 1995 was acquired from Canada. The vessel was known as the ‘Norman McLeod Rogers’, flying the colors of the Canadian Coast Service.
She was built by Vickers Amstrong in Montreal and launched 1969 with a displacement of 6.500 metric tons. The vessel is 89 meters long with a beam of 19 meters and draught of 6 meters. Almirante Viel also carries a helicopter.