The Argentine Navy’s ARA Islas Malvinas set sail Friday enroute to Antarctica to take part in the joint operation with the Chilean Navy in the “Combined Naval Antarctic Patrol” — better known for its Spanish acronym PANC (Patrulla Antártica Naval Combinada) — to control maritime traffic and address environmental issues in the area.
The mission means that the 51 crew members – among them tactical divers, meteorologists and signalers – will spend 45 days at sea, including Christmas and New Year’s Days.
Friday’s departure also marked the 66th anniversary of the creation of the Ushuaia Naval Base and the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of the Southern Naval Area Command (ANAU).
PANC has been taking place for 19 years now, this time between November 12 and March 31, with the objective of carrying out rescue and control tasks including environmental monitoring south of parallel 60.
“During these 19 years more than 300 rescues and support tasks have been carried out on other ships, and we started this new chapter in Tierra del Fuego, the place from which we believe that all efforts to consolidate our rights to Antarctica should be concentrated,” said ANAU commander Rear Admiral Luis Enrique Lopez Mazzeo.
Islas Malvinas Captain Roberto Lovera explained that preparations for the mission have been under way for several months “through the conformation of a homogeneous group that makes the 45 consecutive days at sea feasible”, including the human factor which involves being away from their loved ones for Christmas and New Year’s Day. “It’s hard but it’s part of our work. We have known for months that we would face this situation,” Lovera said.
The captain added that the typical midnight call in full navigation is something of an utopian nature, because weather and position may render those things impossible. “If we communicate at 5 pm, that’s the moment of greeting; sometimes it’s just a few words, nothing more,” Lovera said.
Lieutenant Guillermo Oyarzabal, the Islas Malvinas chief of operations, admitted that when he returns home after a few days, his son, aged one year and four months, needs some time to recognize him. “It does not take long, but it is an indicator of how the absence impacts on him.”
He also said that in Antarctic voyages, navigation can become very difficult as “last summer, when we were surprised by a storm with winds of more than 100 kilometers per hour”, or when “we find ice that exceeds the maneuverability of the boat.”
In addition to sea patrolling, the divers will check out for escape of hydrocarbons in areas where there are recorded sinkings.
Ships heading to the area cross the dreaded Drake Passage, a place with permanent west wind, which raises giant waves that many times “make us endure extreme situations or change our course,” the navy officer explained.
The Russian-built Argentine ship will take 48 hours to reach Antarctica, to relieve the Chilean tugboat Lautaro.