After a long journey, Peru ended its 25th expedition to Antarctica on March 13, 2018, docking at Callao Naval Base, west of Lima. Under the leadership of the Peruvian Navy, the polar research vessel BAP Carrasco (BOP-171) set sail for the white continent in mid-December 2017 on the 90-day ANTAR XXV scientific expedition.
For the first time ever, Navy members, partner nations’ armed forces, and Peruvian and international scientific researchers traveled aboard the BAP Carrasco, which was built to improve the Navy’s oceanographic research services. The ship was added to the Navy fleet in March 2017. With its advanced scientific capabilities and ability to sail to remote and extreme maritime environments, the vessel stirred up interest among the international scientific community.
“Previously, we traveled on the BIC Humboldt or on other ships through agreements with other navies from the Americas, such as the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar [from the Argentine Navy] or the Contraalmirante Óscar Viel [from the Chilean Navy], as well as by air,” Captain Yerko Jara Schenone, deputy director of the Navy’s Directorate of Navigation and Hydrography, told Diálogo. The BIC Humboldt spearheaded the Navy’s first trip to Antarctica in 1988. That year, the Navy found the location on King George Island, Antarctica, where it would build the Machu Picchu Scientific Base.
Although the BIC Humboldt had no polar capabilities, the ship made 13 expeditions to the white continent. The Humboldt will continue to pursue scientific research in Peruvian waters.
Secure polar capabilities
The BAP Carrasco—under the command of Peruvian Navy Captain Carlos Guerrero Malpartida and Peruvian Army Colonel Ulises Cabanillas García, leader of the expedition—had 57 crewmembers, including commissioned and junior officers. Five officers from the Mexican, Colombian, and Ecuadorean armed forces completed the delegation. In addition, 59 scientists from Peru, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, and Portugal joined the expedition.
“This ship has secure polar capabilities, so it can be down there from November to April—between [the austral] summer and fall—to carry out studies,” Capt. Jara said. “It has an oceanographic laboratory, a marine geology lab, a lab for wet samples and another for dry samples, a chemical laboratory, a lab for hydrographic surveys, a chamber to download hydrographic and oceanographic data, a weather desk, and an oceanographic hangar,” Navy Lieutenant Javier Gaviola Vargas, head of the Department of Special Projects and Antarctic Affairs, explained. “Indeed, with the capabilities this ship has, we can do all kinds of work in Antarctica.”
During the stay, Peruvian military institutions and several national and international institutes conducted scientific studies. Among those: sea level variability studies, sea floor organisms inspections, samplings of marine algae, investigations on the biodiversity of Antarctic plankton, and assessments of the marine ecosystem, among others. With their research, participants kept the spirit of Peru’s scientific expeditions to the Antarctic alive.
“Nationally and as an institution, our objective, among others, is to contribute to the development of our national research,” Capt. Jara said. “We’re making use of this tool [the BAP Carrasco] that the government gave us.”
In addition to scientific work, the crew also carried out official visits and cultural exchanges at foreign bases in Antarctica. They also completed maintenance work on the Peruvian station.
Although Peru’s Machu Picchu research station and summer base—among the most northerly settlements in Antarctica—dates back to 1989, the nation seeks to convert it into a permanent base. “Just as we boosted our maritime platform, we also want to boost the Machu Picchu station,” Capt. Jara explained. “The intent is for a permanent base. By having a platform that can remain in Antarctica for six months, we’ll have greater logistical potential.
“And having it opposite the Machu Picchu station provides security. Also, with this ship we’ll be able to reach more southerly areas than when we cruised with the Humboldt,” he added. “The installation of another Peruvian base in another area could also be evaluated to carry out studies, because this ship has the capacity.”
The first expedition aboard the BAP Carrasco left Navy officers quite satisfied. Plans are already in the making for ANTAR XXVI. “Working in Antarctica is an experience that every scientist would like to have,” Capt. Jara concluded. “This is a unique experience that doesn’t happen anywhere else. It’s a great learning opportunity.”