Three navies in search of polar ships: Argentina, Chile and Brazil

The work on the White Continent requires that the navies are equipped with very specific ships for their campaigns: the polar ships. We are reviewing the scenario in three countries that are currently running major programs in this area: Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

The loss of the ARA Baha Paraso in an accident while transporting tourists on the Antarctic continent has never been repaired and represents an operational gap in the national fleet. For a long time it was replaced by Russian ships from private companies that supply the Antarctic The necessary freight volumes.

Designed on its own and built in the private shipyards of Prncipe and Menghi, this ship has been a compendium of tactical and operational virtues in the few years it was in service. Important loading capacity, cranes that gave them autonomy in handling and disposing of the load in the hold towards the floor, a good operating range and unparalleled operational flexibility.

The accuracy of its design was reflected in real operations, in the case of South Georgia at vast distances, or in being converted into a hospital ship in record time thanks to the simplicity and ubiquity of its facilities. For several years, the Antarctic campaigns were covered by classic transport ships such as the south coast and the discontinuation of Russian polar freighters such as the Vasily Golowny.

Around 2019, the Department of Defense (MINDEF) announced that the acquisition of a polar ship was estimated at nearly $ 100 million to provide adequate supplies to the Antarctic bases while maintaining the ARA Almirante Irizar icebreaker if used correctly. The goal was to have it built in the CINAR facilities or in the Rio Santiago shipyards and there was talk of a Finnish design but no major novelties have been introduced so far. The arrival of the new government meant opening up to new opportunities.

The National Technological University (UTN) has created a specific design through student projects that is very similar to Admiral Irizar. We believe the real need for the ARA is a polar ship that is more similar to the extinct Baha Paraso, practical and simple, and easy to move to the coast thanks to its own cranes and huge hangar. The existence of surplus research laboratories implies the waste of the few facilities that a ship of this class has.

Given the current challenges in the protection and conservation of marine resources, the country must address the need to strengthen the presence and long-distance transport capacity in all of the vast sea areas it supports. The existence of a ship with polar and specific characteristics would make it possible to improve the planning of Antarctic operations, which require significant tonnage to be transported quickly and effectively to 13 bases on the White Continent.

Photo: This design created by the UTN can represent a solution for the requirements of the WWTP

A copy of the ARA Almirante Irizar is not required, but a classic double-hulled transport ship with seaworthy capabilities, in addition to the simple facilities in cranes and loading systems. The design of a polar ship like the National Technological University’s, recognized internationally for its excellence, is an opportunity for the national industry, and it is said that the FONDEF (Defense Fund) might be the real way to hire the naval facility specific and convenient means available.

The design enables the transport of more than fifteen refrigerated containers for frozen cargo. It offers space for 160 crew members plus 60 passengers and a complete hospital with an operating theater, which is located in the bow for more navigation comfort. Carry 4 tanks of liquefied natural gas, which gives almost 3,000 nautical miles of autonomy and reduces pollution by 20%.

Also carry multiple landing craft and semi-rigid boats for high-speed operations and transport 3 medium-weight helicopters in a large hangar where they have all the facilities for their support. The flight deck will have a frost protection system for the safe operation of the helicopters, while the dry cargo capacity will be more than 4,000 m3 for efficient logistics. It is powered by efficient two-fueled engines with an output of more than 15,000 kW, giving you unparalleled navigation safety.

It appears that the design shown a few years ago, which was specifically a polar fin-originated ship, has been left in the past and given priority to the current UTN. It is clear that the Argentine Navy needs, in a timely manner, the presence in its inventory of a specific ship for the Antarctic mission, which carries important quantities of dry and refrigerated cargo as well as the containers that the bases on the white continent need.


At the Talcahuano plant of Astilleros and Maestranzas de la Armada (ASMAR) a new icebreaker is being built for Chile, which is classified as PC 5. That is, he can always navigate on ice in the middle of the first year, which includes old pieces of ice as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The ship develops a constant speed of more than 2 knots on 1 m of ice. thick, that is a year old, covered with up to 20 cm. of snow and at temperatures of -30C.

Have the ability to carry out scientific tasks in various fields; develop local cartography; Carrying out search and rescue work in the event of sea, air or land disasters in the Antarctic with the support of embarked helicopters, lifeboats and a nurse with surgical skills. In addition, it will comply with the standards for inspection vessels required by the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources in Antarctica, which will allow it to monitor vessels performing extraction tasks in the region.

Chile’s presence in the Antarctic is complemented by 2 PZM (Marine Zone Patrol) or OPV ships. Both have a reinforced hull for navigation in Antarctic waters with a displacement of 1,771.6 tons, a top speed of 21 knots and 80.6 m. In length and 13 in beam. These devices have a Fassmer design and can only be operated in summer. Given the apparent need for more and better units that can be deployed in Antarctica, it is highly likely that the auxiliary shipbuilding project that began after the icebreaker was completed will require capabilities superior to those of the PZM to to operate there …

Photo: Artistic impression of the icebreaker under construction at ASMAR


As part of the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR), the ship shelf begins in October and loads one of the two ships involved in Rio de Janeiro with almost all the materials, equipment and technicians who develop for the operation of the Estacin Antrtica Comandante Ferraz (EACF) and research project activities. A stop will be made at the port of Rio Grande to ship other materials. This city centralizes the activities in the Antarctic Support Station, the last important port area in the south of the country.

The oceanographic support ship (NApOc) Ary Rongel and the polar (NPo) Almirante Maximiano are currently providing logistical support to PROANTAR. In January 2016, the General Staff of the Navy approved the Hydrooceanographic Resource Extraction Program (PROHIDRO) as part of the Naval Core Construction Program, including the procurement of a ship with operational capacity in one of its stages in frozen polar waters, it will replace the NApOc Ary Rongel, built in 1981. The new ship has to be assembled in Brazil.

In 2019 the Directorate for Program Management of the Navy (DGePM) announced its intention to receive a new Antarctic aid ship (NApAnt). The project includes the acquisition of scientific equipment and systems; Life cycle management plans; integrated logistic support; and maintenance for the logistical support of PROANTAR, which contributes to the safety of the Antarctic navigation through hydrographic surveys.

The NApAnt has to be operated under annual average ice conditions in summer and autumn in order to encounter old ice collapses. To do this, it must meet the requirements of Polar Code Category B and the helmet and machine requirements of Polar Class 6 (PC 6) of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). These requirements not only define the ability of the ship to sail on frozen ice, but also the capacity of the systems and equipment installed to withstand extreme conditions and continue to work. The new ship will shorten the refueling time at the Antarctic station Comandante Ferraz.

The capabilities of the proposed system include modern cranes with greater load and maneuvering capacity, as well as a navigation and control system that allows for a safer approach to the landing deck from materials and personnel. There will be more capacity for research activities as a better equipped ship with the capacity to support storage is required. superior availability and reliability compared to the Ary Rongel NApOc; and the expansion of the area that researchers can visit, including the ocean and land regions, as well as the ability to expand agreements with other countries and stations in and around the Antarctic Peninsula.

The current H-41 Almirante Maximiano has flight decks on which Aeschylus, Jet Ranger and H135 are deployed, and an air-conditioned hangar that can accommodate two helicopters. 5 laboratories (2 dry, 2 wet and 1 mixed) that house teams to develop scientific projects in Antarctica and accommodate 119 people, more than a third of the scientists. It has a wide gangway with dynamic positioning systems, electronic maps (ECDIS), automated hydrooceanographic data acquisition, AIS and 5 propeller control stations that can act with HPC on 2 axes, on the 3 bow thrusters from the bow and azimuth from Der Stern.

To replace the oceanographic support ship Ary Rongel, two bids have been submitted so far, one from Chilean ASMAR and the other from Damen, both of which are associated with key local shipyards as a 45% national stake is required. Damen is integrated in Wilson Sons (So Paulo) and ASMAR in Ecovix from Ro Grande do Sul. The winner will be announced in mid-2021. Later, 2 hydro-oceanographic auxiliary ships could be ordered, which are also suitable for work in the Antarctic.

The Ary Rongel has a hydrography laboratory (AV) and an oceanography laboratory (AR), both of which are connected to the gateway with different cables and have a stabilized output of 220 VAC 60 Hz. It also has a scientific container to support the research. It has 2 cranes (5 and 2.5 tons) and an oceanographic winch with electromechanical cable with a capacity of up to 5,000 m.Depth and capacity on deck for operation with up to 2 helicopters on board.

(Luis Pieiro, Roberto Sandoval Santana and Javier Bonilla)

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