Buenos Aires, Feb 24 (EFE).- Argentina is carrying out a series of projects aimed at strengthening its presence and activity in Antarctica and the South Atlantic Ocean, moves that come in response to the growing economic and political interest in that region.
“From the standpoint of the international and regional situation, it’s obvious that the South Atlantic and Antarctica have been gaining in importance over time,” Defense Minister Jorge Taiana told Efe. “Economically and politically, it’s obvious that entire zone is being valued more highly than ever before.”
Argentina has had a permanent presence in Antarctica since 1904, when it set up the world’s first scientific station there.
It is one of seven countries that have laid claims to sovereignty over different regions of the white continent and one of 12 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which prevented the construction of new claims or the expansion of existing ones.
Argentina’s claims are partially overlapped by Chile’s and entirely by the United Kingdom’s, while in terms of logistics Chile has surpassed Argentina with the services it offers between Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost Magallanes region, and Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, its most important Antarctic base.
Just as Chile is strengthening Punta Arenas as a departure point for Antarctic scientific and tourist vessels and as a logistics hub, “we want to do a little bit of the same in our area,” Taiana said. “That implies having resources in the south” and “offering some of those logistics possibilities to other countries.”
Argentina also is responding to moves in that region by the UK, which defeated the South American nation in a brief 1982 war over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and has built a deepwater port in that South Atlantic archipelago that could serve as a spearhead for expanded British influence in Antarctica.
“We all want to be in a better position. The Chileans legitimately, and the British illegitimately because they’re usurping territories that don’t belong to them,” Taiana said.
Argentina has responded by carrying out a series of projects.
It has begun repairing the Petrel Air Station, a facility on the Antarctic Peninsula’s Dundee Island that suffered a fire in 1974 and now will have a new runway and a dock.
Once that work is complete, that station will replace the Marambio Base Station on Seymour Island as Argentina’s logistical point of entry to Antarctica; Argentine will then have a total of seven permanent bases and six seasonal bases on the white continent.
Another project involves bolstering Ushuaia, capital of the far-southern Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego, as a logistics hub for Antarctica.
That work will involve building a new navy base with a large dock for the mooring of larger ships.
The goal is to replace Argentina’s current Ushuaia-Marambio and Rio Gallegos-Marambio connections to Antarctica with an Ushuaia-Petrel link.
A new polar ship for transporting supplies also will be built over the next two years as a complement to the Almirante Irizar icebreaker.
The impetus for fresh projects in Antarctica is the development of communications and technology that allow new initiatives in scientific research and other areas, according to Taiana.
Although resource extraction in Antarctica is currently banned, the defense minister noted that the continent is an area rich in renewable natural resources and mineral and hydrocarbon wealth. EFE