Argentine and Chilean Navies Cooperate in the Antarctic

The Navies of Argentina and Chile are working in cooperation to protect the environment of the Antarctic region and to help vessels in distress.
Julieta Pelcastre | 6 February 2015

International Relations

Security mission: The Argentinian Naval ship Suboficial Castillo patrols the Antarctic region as part of the PANC. [Photo: Office of the President of Argentina]

The Navies of Argentina and Chile are internationally recognized for their proficiency in protecting the waters of the Antarctic when accidents occur and in conducting search-and-rescue missions.

Now, the two Naval Forces are working together to protect the environment of the Antarctic region and to help vessels in distress through the Combined Antarctic Naval Patrol (PANC).

This is the 17th year the two Navies have participated in the PANC.

In 1998, Argentina and Chile signed an agreement to conduct joint patrols of the Antarctic region between the 10th and 131st meridians south of the 60th parallel in order to protect human life at sea under the framework established by the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, according to the website Centro Naval .

The two Navies have conducted the joint mission from November 15 to March 15 every austral summer since the 1998-1999 season. Conducting operations in waters covered by the Antarctic Treaty, the two Navies conduct patrols and activities, such as scientific missions, to protect the region's environment. Argentinian and Chilean Naval Forces are available to rescue the crews of any vessels in the region which find themselves in trouble.

The mission is split into four chunks of time. One Navy takes charge of operations, such as patrol duties, for a period of time, then hands off the responsibility to the other Navy. Each Navy is in charge of operations for two periods of time; they also conduct joint training exercises.

The two Navies are working together in a complicated region where extreme weather conditions, such as strong winds, and icy waters can disable boats.

The two Navies help a Polish vessel

That training paid off recently when Argentinian and Chilean Navies worked together to help a Polish sailing vessel that was in distress.

On December 23, 2014, the Argentine Navy vessel Aviso ARA Suboficial Castillo assisted a Polish sailing ship whose crew was dealing with difficult sailing conditions, including winds of up to 40 knots, drifting ice, and reduced visibility.

The operation was carried out in coordination with the Chilean Navy, which reported the location of the Polish vessel. Argentinian Sailors rescued the six crew members on the Polish sailing ship.

It was not the first time the two Navies worked together during a PANC operation to help a vessel in distress or to respond quickly to mitigate environmental harm following an accident.

Previous successful operations

Since the first PANC, the Argentine and Chilean Navies have worked jointly on 27 support actions in Antarctica, according to the website Ushuaia .

Among those actions:

* On April 17, 2013, the Chilean Navy responded quickly to prevent environmental harm to the waters where a Chinese fishing vessel caught fire.

* On February 8, 2012, the Argentine Navy provided humanitarian, technical, and mechanical assistance to the Norwegian sailing vessel Anne Mari that was docked in Puerto Paraíso, unable to continue its voyage because of a navigation system failure, Sur 54 reported.

* On November 23, 2007, the Chilean icebreaker Viel mechanically dispersed an oil slick measuring about 180 meters by 20 meters, according to BBC World. The oil slick was caused when a cruise ship struck an iceberg which pierced its hull.

Decades of Antarctic operations

Both Navies have been active in the Antarctic region for decades.

For example, Argentina has been conducting scientific research in the area since the 1950s.

The Chilean Navy has carried out missions, including scientific research, in the Antarctic zone since 1947. The Chilean Navy provides logistical support to its country's scientific bases as well as foreign scientific outposts.The Chilean Navy also fights marine contamination by conducting hydrographic studies.

Global warming increases danger level

Since the agreement creating the PANC was signed, global warming has melted much of the ice in the region, which has made the area more navigable for ships, according to Juan Belikow, a professor of Foreign Affairs, Defense, and International Security at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Consequently, the PANC initiative has increased in importance.

“The fact that the Antarctic region is more navigable because there is less ice makes it more interesting, but it is also riskier because there are sudden detachments of ice and icebergs floating in more concentrated manners than in the past, so the probability of accidents and ecological disasters is greater,” he said.

“This means that rescue operations must be as rapid and early as possible. Delays also have economic impacts. If a vessel trapped in Antarctica is lost, it is an enormous economic loss and can also lead to environmental damage, not just from the fuel that might leak, but also from the cargo being transported."

“[The PANC is] highly operational. Both Navies have very capable, highly trained officials. The work and the performance are outstanding, with recognition from international organizations.

By working in cooperation, the Argentinian and Chilean Navies protect the environment in the Antarctic region.

"The new challenges for the PANC are global in nature, particularly due to the large amount of ice masses that can be found in areas where they previously were not found. It’s a good opportunity to develop protocols to meet these new challenges. So far, countries have been cooperating promptly with regard to this matter."

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