Chile tests the largest icebreaker built in Latin America | Polarjournal
The ship was designed by Vard Marine at a cost of 4 million dollars. Image: Andrés López Castro / Armada de Chile

The long-awaited Almirante Viel, the second Antarctic vessel of the same name, is making her first tack in the South Pacific before embarking on ambitious logistical and scientific programmes.

Red on white, the reflections of the Almirante Viel‘s hull will soon stand out between the chunks of ice on the Antarctic Peninsula. Since April 19, Chile has been testing its new national icebreaker (‘home-made’) in the waters off Talcahuano, a Chilean town in the South Pacific. The vessel has just come out of the Armada Chilena shipyards, where it recently received its engines: two main engines capable of developing a total power of 14.5 MW and pushing the vessel to 15 knots at top speed, as well as the bow thruster. Test, evaluate, adjust: this could be the motto of the current operations on the vessel’s mechanics and balance.

The British ambassador to Chile reacts as she visits the ship in dock. Tweet: United Kingdom in Chile

One hundred and eleven metres long, with a beam of 21 metres and a draught of 7.2 metres, the Almirante Viel is neck and neck with the Argentine Navy’s Almirante Irízar, which was built in Finland in the 1970s. “The size of the vessel is more defining her ability to make headway in the pack ice,” comments Hervé Baudu, a French polar navigation expert based at the École Nationale Supérieure Maritime in Marseille. “There is competition between Argentina and Chile over the legitimacy of regulating the peninsula, even if the Antarctic Treaty remains the reference.

National pride

It is already making the representatives of the State proud. “A great milestone for Chile. Our icebreaker Viel, built by ASMAR, will be the key to our destiny as an Antarctic country. Felicitation @Armada_Chile!” saids the official account of President Gabriel Boric. It is also a source of national pride because it is the largest icebreaker built in South America. This red boat replaces the old Almirante Viel, which was bought from the Canadian Coast Guard. Of the 210 million dollars spent on the new boat, 50% is said to have remained in the territory, according to several of the country’s media. Eight hundred people were involved in its construction.

The heliport is due to receive an Airbus Super Puma. The ship will provide logistical support for rescue operations at sea, but will mainly be used to supply the Antarctic bases. The Almirante Viel will be able to carry more than 30 scientists with on-board instrumentation, echo sounders, sonars, etc. and a biological laboratory. The holds and deck can accommodate 19 20-foot containers.

Departure from Talcahuano harbor assisted by two tugs. Tweet : Planet TET

“Her PC 5 hull will not allow her to progress in a very tight ice pack, it’s the same class as L’Astrolabe, so it will be dedicated to supply on the fringes of the austral summer,” notes the expert. “They undoubtedly have development ambitions with more regular rotations to build up power at their bases.”

Maya Fernandez Allende, Minister of Defence, has also spoken out, via Tweet: “Great news country 👏.” The latter recently received a new recruit to the national fleet, the higth sea tug Lientur dedicated to salvage, similarly capable of cruising in Antarctic waters.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal AG

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