Scientific expedition: The ARC 20 de Julio (OPV-80), one of the most modern vessels in the Colombian Navy, is transporting 20 researchers and more than 80 Naval crew members on a scientific mission to the Antarctic. [Photo: Colombian Navy]
Scientific expedition: The ARC 20 de Julio (OPV-80), one of the most modern vessels in the Colombian Navy, is transporting 20 researchers and more than 80 Naval crew members on a scientific mission to the Antarctic. [Photo: Colombian Navy]

TODAY COLOMBIA (Dialogo Americas) The Colombian Navy is providing logistical, operational, and scientific support – and its largest and most sophisticated ship – for 20 researchers conducting the country’s first scientific expedition to the Antarctic.

The scientists are aboard the ARC 20 de Julio military patrol vessel, which embarked on the mission on December 16 from the Bolívar Naval Base in Cartagena. The ship crossed the Panama Canal, and then sailed down the Pacific coast of South America before arriving in the Antarctic on January 18. The mission will conclude on March 12.

The ARC 20 is carrying 102 people on the journey, including 82 crew members. The 20 researchers are from 11 Colombian institutions, including the Navy; the National Army, the Maritime General Directorate, the Colombian Ocean Commission; the Admiral Padilla Naval Cadets School; the Colombian Air Force; and the Norte, Valle, Antioquia and Los Andes universities, as well as the Malpelo, Yubarta and the Omacha International Conservation foundations.

An ‘essential’ mission

The mission marks the launch of the Colombian Antarctic Program, which will establish a geopolitical presence on the continent and lay the groundwork for continued scientific investigations.

Scientists will conduct research experiments on how different areas of the Antarctic impact the planet. Among other tasks, they will create navigational charts for unexplored areas of the Antarctic, and investigate maritime security, the El Niño phenomenon, and the behavior of large mammals and fish.

“Researchers from the Maritime General Directorate at the Center for Oceanographic and Hydrographic Research, along with nine scientists from the Colombian Navy, will conduct an oceanographic survey of Gerlache Bay,” said Commander Camilo Segovia, the ship’s commanding officer, on the website Fan.com.

“The mission is essential for our nation’s survival,” added Segovia. “The expedition is key to performing various experiments that will determine how our climate, biodiversity and agricultural production will be affected by the climatic conditions in the Antarctic.”

A sophisticated Naval vessel

To achieve this scientific mission in a harsh environment, Military authorities chose the ARC 20 de Julio (OPV-80), one of the most modern vessels in the Colombian National Navy.

“This ship was chosen for the expedition [to the Antarctic] because of its operational capacity, its versatility, and its configuration,” Commander Segovia said, according to El Heraldo.

The ARC 20 is one of the latest naval creations from the shipyards operated by Colombia’s Science and Technology Corporation for the Development of Naval Maritime and Riverine Industry (Cotecmar). This vessel became part of the Colombian fleet in 2012. The ship, which is more than 80 meters long and 13 meters wide, is not an ice-breaker. On its first mission, the ARC 20 was assigned to the Tumaco Drug Enforcement Task Force, where it conducted maritime interdiction operations to dismantle terrorist support networks linked to drug trafficking off Colombia’s Pacific coast, according the website for the Colombian Antarctic Program.

While the ship is not an ice breaker, it is conditioned to withstand extremely cold temperatures. It is equipped with important scientific gear, including instruments, laboratories, movement sensors, and an echo-sounder beneath the hull .

By the end of the expedition, the ARC 20 will have traveled 14,417 nautical miles, with 12 stops to refuel and strengthen ties with friendly nations. The ship will also stop at scientific bases on Greenwich and King George Islands.

The Colombian Navy protects the environment

The Navy’s involvement in the mission demonstrates its dedication to protecting the environment and cooperating with other countries in achieving that goal. It is “protecting the planet,” said National University of Colombia security analyst Edwin Hernández.

“In this mission, the Navy is part of a larger partnership that involves various topics; they are involved because their Sailors are the best trained on the sea and navigation.”

The Antarctic region has significant scientific and geopolitical value.

In 1959, representatives from 12 countries – including Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the United Kingdom – signed the Antarctic Treaty in Washington, D.C., which calls for the region to be used for peaceful purposes and for the continuation of scientific observations. During the 1980s, Colombia was added to the Treaty as an observer; today, the country now hopes to become a consulting member.

“The National Navy will continue to undertake actions to protect the country’s naval power and sciences, and its support for the Colombian Antarctic Program will support the country’s desire to become a consulting member of the Antarctic Treaty,” the Colombian Navy announced in a press release.