Argentine icebreaker rescues U.S. scientists in Antarctica

The Argentine Navy icebreaker and its helicopter picked up a U.S. scientific team stranded on an island in Antarctica, after thick sea ice thwarted rendezvous with the National Science Foundation’s contract ice vessel.

The 398’x83’x31’ icebreaker Almirante Irizar was at Argentina’s base on King George Island, when a request for help came from the NSF Antarctic Program, according to Argentine officials.

The team of four U.S. scientists and an employee of Colorado-based support contractor ASC, led by coastal geologist Alexander Simms of the University of  California at Santa Barbara, was on icebound Joinville Island, about 100 miles distant, according to U.S. officials. The U.S. Antarctic Program’s 230’x56’x19.4’ research vessel Laurence M. Gould, which operates under a long-term contract with Edison Chouest Offshore, was unable to penetrate thick sea ice around the island.

An Argentine Navy helicopter descends to pick up U.S. scientists on Joinville Island in Antarctica. NSF photo.

An Argentine Navy helicopter descends to pick up U.S. scientists on Joinville Island in Antarctica. NSF photo.

In a two-and-a-half hour operation Sunday, the Almirante Irizar’s helicopter crew retrieved the science party, who later transferred over to the Laurence M. Gould for its return to its usual port of operations at Punta Arenas, Chile.

Argentina’s assist came just days after the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard jointly issued a long-awaited request for proposal to build the first new U.S. heavy icebreaker since the single operational one, the 399’x83’x31’ Polar Star, was built more than 40 years ago.

The Almirante Irizar is of a similar class, built in Finland in the 1970s. It completed a prolonged refit and ice trials in 2017 to return to Antarctic service.




About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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