As part of Operation Antarkos XXXII, the Uruguayan Naval vessel ROU 26 "Vanguardia" successfully conducted supply operations and logistical support at the Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base. The Vanguardia's crew also carried out surveillance operations to combat illegal fishing.
The Vanguardia's 72-member crew, which included a group from the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute (UAI), left the port of Montevideo en route to the base on Antarctica's King George Island on January 4th. “Its mission is to transport all of the supplies and fuel to be used at the scientific base in 2016,” Uruguayan Navy Rear Admiral Daniel Núñez, UAI's president, said during an interview with Diálogo .
Operation Antarkos is the name used to designate the Uruguayan expedition conducted annually in Antarctica. The operation is regulated by the Marine Pollution Prevention and Contingency Plan established by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic, according to UAI's report A History of the BCCAA (Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base), 25 Years .
During Operation Antarkos XXXII, the Vanguardia successfully transported 260,000 liters of diesel fuel. The fuel “will serve to generate electricity and power the vehicles at the base. For the first time, the base will have an inventory of reserves for contingencies at the base’s new fuel tank park,” the Navy stated in a January 22nd press release. The Vanguardia also transferred 35 tons of food as well as building materials, engines, and a vehicle for snow removal.
The resupply of the scientific base was divided into two stages. The first included the discharge of the first 150,000 liters of fuel and a portion of the raw materials that were loaded in Uruguay. Next, the boat stopped at the Chilean port of Punta Arenas, where it loaded the remaining 110,000 liters of fuel and additional supplies for the Vanguardia and the Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base, according to the Uruguayan Navy.
Uruguayan Air Force assists
Every year the power generators consume approximately 150,000 liters of diesel fuel, which allows for the normal operation of the base, according to a February 2014 press release by Uruguay’s Office of the President. “The Vanguardia’s operations were accompanied by the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU). During the operation, five flights were conducted by FAU Hercules C-130 aircraft,” Rear Adm. Núñez explained. “Many of the scientists were transported by these aircraft.
The FAU’s first plane flew on December 1, 2015, followed by the Vanguardia's departure. “The mission was fulfilled in compliance with the guidelines for fuel storage and transfer from ship to shore. Personnel from the Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base also rotated in and out,” Rear Adm. Núñez added.
Founded in 1984, the Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base relies on support from the UAI and the Ministry of National Defense. This unit is run by 10 Uruguayan Armed Forces members who ensure its operation for use by scientists. It's currently overseen by Uruguayan Army Major Alejandro Capelutto.
Members of the Armed Forces deployed to the base perform logistical work and maintenance. Uruguay's other scientific base is the Ruperto Elichiribehety Antarctic Research Station.
Combating illegal fishing
During Operation Antarkos XXXII, the Vanguardia conducted surveillance on vessels in the area delimited by the Antarctic Treaty to combat illegal fishing, as recommended by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, of which Uruguay is a member.
“Illegal fishing affects many parts of the world," Rear Adm. Núñez stated. "Uruguay, as a member of the Antarctic Treaty, has a commitment to the protection of living resources – always conducting surveillance to discourage undeclared fishing. We conduct exploratory voyages to determine if there are ships carrying out unlawful acts and, if we locate any, we duly report them."
On board the Vanguardia, crew members conducted scientific activities, meteorological studies, hydrographic surveys, and oceanographic tasks. The Vanguardia rescue and submarine rescue vessel, which utilizes a 45-member crew, was constructed in 1976 and has an autonomous range of 30 days of continuous sailing. It can reach a speed of 23 kilometers per hour and measures 72 meters in length.
“The crews on board the Vanguardia and the FAU aircraft have special safety training for navigating in icy waters and conducting extreme survival measures," Rear Adm. Núñez said. "The crew members may encounter a number of significant obstacles, such as inaccessible places where the ice caps prevent navigation. The breakdown in Potter Cove was minor. The ship has the capacity to deal with such situations. The most important thing is to fulfill the mission."
The Uruguayan government's goal is to maintain its presence in Antarctica. “Our country’s strategy in Antarctica allows us to relate on various issues with other countries with maritime and fishing resources,” Deputy Secretary of National Defense Jorge Menéndez said during the transfer of authorities at the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute on February 4th, according to the Office of the President of Uruguay.