Antarctica, An Example of International Brotherhood

Antarctica, An Example of International Brotherhood

By Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo
March 07, 2017

More than 1,600 people, including soldiers, scientists, and technicians, participated in the Antarctica Summer Campaign 2016-2017 (CAV, per its Spanish acronym). CAV is an annual mission by the Argentine military to resupply the country’s 13 bases on the snow-covered continent. This year’s CAV features the deployment of five Argentine Navy ships as well as airplanes and helicopters from the Argentine Air Force. The military effort allows this South American nation to undertake scientific projects at the South Pole and also provide logistical support to other nations’ bases there. “The Antarctic brotherhood is an example of global coexistence,” Commodore Marcelo Tarapow, commander of the Antarctic Naval Command and the Joint Antarctic Command of Argentina, told Diálogo. “I like to say that change is the only constant in Antarctica. But down there, international cooperation has not changed; in reality, it has improved.” CAV 2016-2017 began on December 6, 2016, when the dispatch boat ARA Puerto Argentino set sail for the bases. The second stage began on January 10th, when the transport ship ARA Bahía San Blas carried out resupply and staff rotation duties. Cmdre. Tarapow gave an exclusive interview to Diálogo on February 17th in Buenos Aires, where he spent a few days before returning to the glaciers. At the time of the interview, the dispatch boat ARA Estrecho de San Carlos was cruising towards Antarctica, thus beginning the third stage that will conclude the campaign on March 28th. Diálogo: What are the goals of CAV 2016-2017? Commodore Marcelo Tarapow: Under Statute 18513, the Argentine military is charged with logistical maintenance in Antarctica. So our main duty is to provide logistical support to the bases and scientific projects – the Argentine ones as well as those of the countries we cooperate with. Argentina is the country with the largest number of bases operating in Antarctica. There are 13 in total; six permanent bases that function year-round [Orcadas, San Martín, Carlini, Esperanza, Belgrano II and Marambio], and seven temporary ones set up only during the summer [Matienzo, Petrel, Brown, Primavera, Cámara, Decepción and Melchior]. We also have to maintain two lighthouses and 80 navigation beacons, which require significant effort. Diálogo: Which vessels are taking part in this CAV and what are their duties? Cmdre. Tarapow: We are using five Navy ships as well as three Hercules C-130s, a Twin Otter plane, one Bell 212 helicopter from the Air Force, and others. Unlike other CAVs, we are not renting boats this year. With a bit of ingenuity and support from the Hercules, we decided to do this campaign with our own resources. The ship that began the campaign was the dispatch boat ARA Isla Malvinas, which is conducting the Joint Antarctic Naval Patrol with Chile and is also helping with the transfer of personnel and buoyage. The second ship is the dispatch boat ARA Puerto Argentino, which is involved in all three stages. The third vessel is the ARA Bahía San Blas, a cargo ship that set sail the second week of January. The fourth is the ARA Estrecho de San Carlos, which is now entering the Antarctic and will remain there until the end of March. Finally, we are using the oceanographic research vessel ARA Puerto Deseado, which is devoted to bathymetric surveys of the Orcadas del Sur island zone for the publication of an international chart. Diálogo: Is new mapping of Antarctica being done? Cmdre. Tarapow: Yes. Argentina, through the Naval Hydrographic Service (SHN, per its Spanish acronym), took charge of a dozen international charts that will be shared among all navigators. Several countries, depending on their regular work sites in Antarctica, volunteered to make a new chart. The thing is the current chart is not complete or accurate. Many of the surveys were done before GPS came about. It’s very imprecise. We have found charts that are off by several kilometers. Diálogo: In total, how many people are taking part in this CAV? Cmdre. Tarapow: Approximately 1,600, of which 350 are scientists and technicians. The rest are service members providing logistical support to the bases. Diálogo: How much cargo will be brought to Antarctica? Cmdre. Tarapow: We are transferring close to 1,700 cubic meters of Antarctic diesel [a fuel that contains an antifreeze additive], as well as 700 gas canisters, each weighing 45 kilograms, and some 1,500 cubic meters of general cargo, including vehicles, construction materials, food, medicine, paint, clothing, and electronic equipment. But we are also bringing back waste: containers, wrapping, plastic boxes, and all of the household garbage produced by living in Antarctica. Diálogo: Is there some special aspect to this CAV? Cmdre. Tarapow: Back when we rented ships, we had the use of the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar [melted down in 2007], and we had one logistical operations element that was unparalleled for the Antarctica: a helicopter. This year, we don’t have helicopters on the ships. The only ones we have are those I mentioned, which are at Marambio base. That’s because none of our ships have a flight deck or a hangar. All of them are capable of working with helicopters, but they have no capacity for keeping them on board or in hangars. So all of the loading on and off of the ships will be done using smaller vessels: landing craft, amphibious vehicles, and Zodiac MK 5 inflatable boats. An added complication is the amount of ice that we have to clear to reach the beach. In the 12 trips I’ve made to Antarctica, I’ve never seen so much floating ice. Diálogo: Why is there so much floating ice this time? Cmdre. Tarapow: I don’t know whether it’s a rare phenomenon, a function of the wind and tide, or whether it’s got something to do with an advance in climate change. What I can say is that this is the year that I have seen the most chunks of glaciers, which are dangerous, because they are as hard as a rock. If a ship hits that kind of ice, it damages the hull and propellers. On the other hand, if it were sea ice, which is formed by freezing water, it would be spongier. That kind of ice can be hit without any problem. But what we are seeing are many pieces of glaciers that are all adrift. Diálogo: What other challenges do you face? Cmdre. Tarapow: I have gone on more than 10 campaigns to the Antarctic; however, one never masters them all. The Antarctic always surprises you with something new. No two days are the same — not even on the same campaign — because the weather and the geography are highly variable. We can’t carry out our duties in May, for example, because there are fewer hours of daylight and the action of the glaciers is more aggressive. That’s why the main challenge for a CAV is being able to support the science and supply the bases in a limited amount of time without running risks, which, in Antarctica tend to be serious. An accident there causes injury, death, or environmental harm. Diálogo: What importance does CAV hold for international cooperation? Cmdre. Tarapow: The Antarctic is one place in the world where international brotherhood is on display. This year, we have already provided support to the Uruguayan bases, for example. We transferred personnel and cargo within a climate of cooperation. That’s good because in availing oneself of other countries’ facilities, one reduces the human presence in Antarctica and preserves the environment. Just yesterday, I got a request to haul off the waste from a fire that happened at Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz station [in 2012]. We’ve also received offers of assistance from the rest of the countries. It’s something spontaneous. You don’t have to do a favor for one country in order for it to offer you a favor. We are like one big family. Everyone wants the other Antarctic programs to be successful, and for the other programs to have everything they need. It’s a wonderful sense of brotherhood.
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