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ARA Almirante Irízar (Q 5)

The Almirante Irizar was designed for supplying scientific research stations and also working as a floating laboratory or carrying out search and rescue. The year 2000 White Paper referenced this vessel as "Varsillia" but this nomenclature refers to the shipbuilder Wartsila Company in Finland rather than the ship itself. Previous Argentine icebreakers include the "General San Martin", "M/V Ushuaia" and "Bahía Paraíso" (a 400-foot supply ship wrecked in Antarctica in 1989, causing a massive fuel spill).

Icebreaking Capability is continuous through 1 m thick ice, Ramming: 5.6 m thick ice. The ship was named after Vice Admiral Julian Irizar, who in 1903 (then with the rank of Lieutenant) commanded the Argentine corvette ARA Uruguay in a mission to rescue the scientific expedition of Professor Otto Nordenskjold, which had been trapped by the Antarctic winter. The mission was a success.

She was built at the Wartsila shipyard in Helsinki, Finland, as per a contract signed in 1975 between the Argentine Navy and the shipyard. Irizar was launched in February 1978 and was formally commissioned on December of that year, arriving at Argentina on March 23 1979. She replaced the elderly icebreaker ARA General San Martin, which was retired from active service.

The Almirante Irizar differs from Wartsila's usual type of icebreaker in that she is designed to supply Argentinian research stations in the Antarctic and, if necessary, to overwinter there with 210 persons on board her complement is 233, including some 100 passengers. The ship carries rescue equipment and incorporates research laboratories. Principal particulars are:-- Length excluding stern towing-notch 119.3 m; Breadth 25 m; Draught 9.5 m; Displacement 14,900 tonnes; Propulsion Diesel-electric. Four 3,828-kW Wartsila-Pielstick 8PC2-5L engines, each driving a 3,500-kW alternator; two 5,950-kW d.c. motors driving twin bolted-blade propellers at 100 to 200 rpm; Speed, open water 16.5 knots.

Hull construction is typical of icebreakers. The ship can break level ice up to a thickness of 1 meter, depending on conditions. An air-bubbling system is fitted. Deck equipment includes two 16-tonne jib cranes, a 60-tonne max. pull towing winch, and a special winch system for bringing a helicopter back on to the pad in poor weather. Denny-Brown retractable stabilisers are fitted. The article, which includes a side-elevation drawing of the ship, mentions that final ice-tests will be carried out when the vessel arrives in Antarctica.

Almirante Irizar's peacetime missions include annual campaigns to resupply and rotate the personnel assigned to the Argentine Antarctic outposts, as well as conducting and supporting scientific endeavors in Antarctica. She has also conducted several passenger tours to Patagonia and the Antarctic. The ship is homeported at the Argentine Navy's Buenos Aires Naval Anchorage (Apostadero Naval Buenos Aires) in the capital city of Buenos Aires.

The Irizar played a part in the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. Reports reached the defenders about the presence of Argentine ships, and at 4.30am, more Buzo Tactico land at Mullet Creek apparently from Sea King helicopters embarked on icebreaker "Almirante Irizar". Most of them headed for the empty barracks at Moody Brook while the rest pass quietly below Sapper Hill on their way to Government House. As they approached their objectives the destroyers and frigates of TF 40 took up support and escort positions and the LST headed in for the unguarded beach at York Bay.

The icebreaker ARA Almirante Irizar underwent an extended USD17 million refit over two years. Phase one of the refit and modernisation program was due to start at the end of September 2002. The hull, propulsion and all basic systems were overhauled over three months. A second and longer phase in the refit program began in late March 2003. Besides completing the refit of the hull and its basic systems, a new communications and navigation suite were installed.

A fire burned in the Argentine icebreaker Almirante Irizar in the south Atlantic Ocean on April 11th, 2007. The fire broke out in the generator of the Almirante Irizar while it was at sea in the south Atlantic, forcing the crew of 296 to abandon ship. All crew members on board the Argentine navy's flagship icebreaker were safely removed from the ship after it caught fire. Specialists on three navy ships had reached the scene and boarded the Almirante Irizar to examine the damage from the fire which was extinguished. They towed the ship to the navy base at Puerto Belgrano, some 450 miles south of Buenos Aires.

Argentina's Antarctic 2007/08 season had a modest launching in November 2007 with two vintage patrol vessels replacing icebreaker Almirante Irizar which suffered a major fire accident and was still undergoing repairs. The two vessels, "Suboficial Castillo" and "Canal de Beagle" symbolically sailed on Sunday from Buenos Aires for Ushuaia and from there to accomplish two main tasks: deliver provisions to Argentine bases and scientific stations in Antarctica and, with a Chilean patrol vessel, jointly monitor the South Seas, as part of a bilateral agreement.

The devastating fire damaged the ship, destroyed two Sea King helicopters and damaged a third so severely that it was not flyable. A team from NAVAIR's Support and Commercial Derivative Aircraft Program Office worked hand-in-hand with the Armada Argentina (Argentine Navy) to deliver six UH-3H Sea King helicopters, four flyable versions and two for spare parts.

The government of Argentina leased the Russian icebreaker Vassily Golovnin in July 2007 for its next Antarctic expedition. The Vassily Golovnin took the place of the Argentine vessel Admiral Irizar, which was under repairs after a fire aboard.

Mariano Memolli, Director of Argentina's National Antarctic Institute (NAI), pointed out that the decision to lease the Russian icebreaker was taken after a scrutiny of the Admiral Irizar and of the technical characteristics of other Argentine ships involved in national Antarctic programs. "We ruled out the possibility that following the recent fire, the Admiral Irizar can be repaired by the needed date," Memolli said. He pointed out that the other Argentine ships do not meet the necessary requirements. "We have chosen the Russian icebreaker because it is the best suited (for the mission)," the NAI Director emphasized.

Memolli said the cost of the lease of the Vassily Golovnin would be about $4 million. The ship was used in an Argentine expedition within a period from early December 2007 to mid-April 2008. The agreement on the lease of the Vassily Golovnin was signed during Argentine Navy officials' visit to Russia.

After the fire in the icebreaker Almirante Irízar, there was an evaluation process by the Argentine Navy, the Ministry of Defense, the Chancellery and the Universidad de Buenos Aires, to decide what to do with the ship, whether a new one was bought, if the Irízar was restored to its original state, or if it was rebuilt and modernized. The preferred option was the last one. Afterwards, the tough decision was whether to repair it in Argentina or send the ship to Finland, to the shipyard that built it.

The Complejo Industrial Naval Argentino (CINAR) is in charge of the repairs to the icebreaker Almirante Irízar, with the expectation that the Irízar will be active for the 2015-2016 campaign. The works generated controversy, because they demanded millions of pesos.

The most ardent critics held that it would have been cheaper to do them in Finland, where the ship was built. It is also said, from some areas, that with the money that was invested, four used icebreakers could have been bought. Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides, these are not ships that can be chosen from a catalogue, that one can go and say “I want this one, or that one”; these are vessels that have to be designed and manufactured. In 2008, when the decision was taken, there was a five-year waiting list to submit a project.

An icebreaker built in Finland, the Agulhas II, was delivered to South Africa in 2012. The Agulhas II, which is an icebreaker as big as the Irízar, costs 170 million dollars. It cannot be said that four ships can be bought with 533 million pesos. The Argentine State paid 120 million dollars, or 523 million pesos, calculated when they did the payments. But of those 120 million dollars, a third is transferred abroad. That is what it cost Argentina. If the project went to Finland, it would have cost 270 million dollars. It was important to leave it in Argentina, both from the economic point of view, and from the point of the acquired strategic capacities.

Only the hull and the structure were preserved, that is, the walls and the roof, nothing else. All the inside was manufactured in Tandanor. Our shipyard recovered capacities and generated new ones that did not exist in Argentina, substituting imports, as in the case of the icebreaker’s furniture, which was manufactured here and with Argentine manpower. The paneling and the ceiling were entirely built in our shipyard. More than half of the ship ended up empty, as a nutshell, and was rebuilt in our shipyard.

The icebreaker Almirante Irízar was a logistics vessel where, additionally, research could be conducted. Today, it becomes a research vessel and a logistic one additionally. It went from 70 square meters of laboratory, to more than 400. It expands its accommodation service, and ends up having one of the largest in the world.

The Agulhas II was as big as the Irízar in length and beam, but it had an accommodation capacity of only 100 people. The new Irízar had a capacity for more than 300 passengers, with all the equipment and services they need. The Agulhas II has less internal capacity — the Irízar can hold three times its capacity, and has 50 percent more motor power and twice its laboratory capacity—,

Besides, it fulfills all the environmental global standards. For instance, in the treatment of waste and white, gray and black waters. It is a multipurpose ship that complies with all the international safety and environmental standards.

Besides, now the researchers have their own winches to be able to extract samples from the sea without disturbing the crew. Before, the researchers had to go to the control bridge for sightings, which was inconvenient both for themselves and the crew, but today there is a room just as big as the control bridge, but underneath it. It is an open space with armchairs, computers, and reading area for the researchers.

It has all the state of the art equipment the Argentine Navy bought to use the vessel also as a hospital. The ship already served as hospital ship in the Malvinas war, and now is in better conditions. Not only because it has more beds, but also for the technology of its equipment.



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