Chile Moves Forward with New Icebreaker

Image courtesy Vard Marine

Published Feb 1, 2016 8:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, naval architects and marine engineers Vard Marine announced a contract for the design of a new icebreaker for the Chilean Navy.

The contract, with Chile's ASMAR Shipbuilding & Ship Repair Company, will be for a 400-foot icebreaker of 13,000 tons displacement, rated for one meter of ice. She will carry a complement of 150 and will serve throughout the Southern Ocean for purposes of research, SAR, logistics support and resupply for Chile's bases in Antarctica.

The new vessel, to be delivered in 2021, will rival Argentina's 15,000 ton displacement Almirante Irizar, presently the largest icebreaker in South America.

VARD, the parent company of North America-based Vard Marine, is a specialist in the design and construction of offshore vessels, including ice-classed vessels for use in high-latitude projects. One of its ships is presently contracted to provide platform support for the Goliat field offshore Norway, the northernmost offshore oil rig in the world.

Chile's Navy announced its intent to replace its aging icebreaker Almirante Oscar Viel in 2014. The Oscar Viel was built in 1969 for the Canadian Navy as the Norman McLeod Rogers, and Chile purchased and renamed her in 1994 for Antarctic operations.

“The objective is a vessel with all the necessary capacities to develop all kind of operations in the Antarctic area including a renewed scientific research potential,” said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in announcing the project.

Many South American countries are looking to expand their Antarctic presence, with new entrants like Colombia showing interest in establishing a foothold on the continent – and investing in ice-classed ships to do it.

“It is driven by the current push to exploit natural resources towards the North Pole, which South American countries expect to be replicated in Antarctica,” said Emilio Meneses, a Chilean analyst. He says that the nations expect that current limits imposed by the Antarctic Treaty will eventually be lifted, permitting mineral extraction and other economic activity.

Argentina and Chile have overlapping claims in Antarctica, including territory also claimed by Britain; many other South American nations, including Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador maintain bases on the continent.