Tag Archives: Chile

Latin American Navies and Antarctica

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By Alejandro Sanchez Nieto and Brittney J. Figueroa

Latin American governments have a strong presence in Antarctica, with two countries, Argentina and Chile, formally claiming Antarctic territories while several others carry out annual scientific expeditions (apart from having research bases there). Regional navies are of paramount importance in these operations as they are the spearhead of their respective nations’ expeditions and security initiatives in Antarctic waters. In fact, in recent months, there have been new developments that signal a greater Latin American naval presence in the Antarctic in the near future: Peru has commissioned its new oceanographic vessel while Chile has commenced the construction of a new icebreaker.

Antarctic geopolitics will only increase in importance due to climate change and the upcoming year 2048 when the Antarctic Treaty will be open for review. Hence it is important that Latin America, broadly speaking, takes steps to maintain a continuous presence in Antarctica in order to have a voice when the frozen continent’s future is decided. Increasing budgets in order to modernize or replace aging vessels and expanding already successful scientific and security programs will play a critical role in regional navies’ future Antarctic operations.

Antarctica as a National Interest

The importance of Antarctica in Latin American security and defense strategies, as well as more comprehensive foreign policy concepts, cannot be overemphasized. One example of this is Antarctica’s frequent and prominent mentions in regional White Papers. For example, Argentina’s 2015 White Book repeatedly references Antarctica, and explains how “the Ministry of Defense considers of the upmost importance the upgrade [of military platforms] necessary for the scientific development, international cooperation and preservation of the Antarctic environment” (P. 43). Similarly Peru’s 2005 White Book mentions how the “Ministry of Defense, via the armed forces, has a fundamental role in the logistical support and the scientific research that encompasses the Peruvian presence in Antarctica” (P.42). Finally, Chile’s 2010 White Book has an extensive chapter on the Chilean Antarctic, explaining how the armed forces aim to “have a permanent presence, even during winter, in the Antarctic continent and its islands” and to carry out oceanographic scientific research in the region (P. 51 & 52).

These three different White Books exemplify Latin American nations’ interests in having a strong Antarctic presence and how militaries, particularly navies, are regarded as the tip of the spear of Antarctic operations.

Vessels and Patrols

Argentina and Chile possess several platforms that operate in Antarctic waters for expeditions, patrols, and to support their Antarctic bases. Argentina has the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar (Q5) and in 2014, Buenos Aires acquired four Russian Neftegaz-class multipurpose vessels to support its Antarctic bases. Meanwhile, Chile has the icebreaker Almirante Oscar Viel (AP46), and several other vessels capable of operating in Antarctic waters.

Additionally, the two countries set aside their differences—overlapping territorial claims in the Antarctic—to create the Joint Antarctic Naval Patrol (Patrulla Antártica Naval Combinada: PANC) in 1998. Via the PANC, naval platforms from the two countries come together during the Antarctic Summer months (November-March) to patrol Antarctic waters, assist vessels in need (e.g. the tourist vessel M/V Explorer in 2007), respond to oil spills, and visit and support various bases.

A picture taken by the Chilean Air Force shows the Explorer, which struck an iceberg in the Antarctic Ocean. (Fuerza Aerea de Chile via European Pressphoto Agency)

The PANC’s navies pride themselves on being prepared to safeguard the lives of those who work in and travel to the region, and are prepared for search and rescue missions along with other various emergencies at sea. The creation and success of the PANC should not be underestimated as it exemplifies the possibilities of collaborative naval efforts in the Antarctic. It is worth stressing that neither PANC country is a military power, and they do not have the same naval capabilities as some of their wealthier Antarctic counterparts, thus putting them at a great disadvantage (especially when considering each nation’s capabilities alone). However, despite the older vessels in their fleets, their partnership over the past two decades has proven to be effective both to patrol Antarctic waters, and also as a confidence-building mechanism.

Non-claimant nations also have important Antarctic programs. Peru, for example, recently received BAP Carrasco (BOP171), constructed by the Spanish Freire shipyard in 2016. Jane’s 360 explains that “the steel-hulled ship has a length of 95.9 m, a 6,000-tonne displacement, has a streamlined and raked superstructure with a meteorological sensor platform at the forward end,” which will be of great help for Peru’s future operations in the Antarctic. In addition, Brazil has a varied presence in the region that consists of the Almirante Maximiano (H-41), an ice breaker, the Ary Rongel (H-44), an oceanographic support ship, and several C-130 Brazilian Air Force (FAB) aircraft that are utilized to transport essential equipment and personnel to the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR) facilities.

Regarding Chile, it has commenced the construction of a brand-new icebreaker as part of its Antarctica I project. Thanks to information provided to the authors by ASMAR, (Astilleros y Maestranzas de la Armada) Chile’s state-owned shipyard that has partnered with the Chilean Navy since 1895, we know that the new platform, an over $210 million project, will be capable of longer Antarctic missions in part due to its design which allows it to operate at temperatures as low as -30 Celsius. Additionally, the icebreaker will be equipped with modern, state-of-the-art scientific equipment in its microbiological and chemical laboratories. Construction commenced on 9 May at ASMAR’s Talcahuano facilities. The new vessel will be operational by the 2022-2023 season, and will greatly support Chile’s Antarctic operations.

As for Colombia, the navy has refitted one of its oceanic patrol vessels, ARC 20 de Julio (PZE-46), so it can better operate in Antarctic conditions. The vessel has already carried out two expeditions. 

Uruguay’s presence in Antarctica since 1985 is also worth noting. The ROU 26 Vanguardia is the small South American country’s primary platform used for scientific research and to support Base Artigas and Station Ruperto Elichiribehety. The Vanguardia, named Otto Von Guericke at the time of its construction, was built in Poland for East Germany in 1976. The vessel was purchased by Montevideo in 1991 and was then given its current name. It has a length of 72.62 m, displaces 1872 tons, and a maximum speed of 14.5 knots. Other ships that participate in the country’s Antarctic activities are ROU 04 Artigas and ROU 22 Oyarvide. Unlike the PANC, which focuses on patrolling and safety activities, Uruguay’s main operations in the continent take place via the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute, a national agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense that focuses on scientific, technological, and logistic activities.

The Chilean icebreaker ‘Veil.’ (EFE/Chilean Navy)

Finally, it is worth stressing the general spirit of camaraderie in the Antarctic among South American navies. The PANC is a security-related initiative of two navies coming together in spite of historical differences and ongoing territorial claims in the Antarctic. Similarly, Uruguay has shared the results of some scientific studies with Chile and Argentina. In addition, Uruguay’s Mobile Marine Meteorological Station Project (Proyecto Estacion Meterologica Movil Marina) is an ongoing project that provides real-time information such as wind direction and speed, atmospheric and barometric pressure; and wave period, height, and type to Argentine and Chilean stations. This is a prime example of Latin American navies and scientific centers coming together to build upon each other’s successes in Antarctica.

Slow Improvements

While the aforementioned developments clearly demonstrate how Latin American navies are growing Antarctic capabilities, they should not be overestimated as there are also troubling shortcomings, particularly due to budget issues. For example, while Argentina’s icebreaker Irízar recently commenced sea trials and will likely return to operational duty by the 2017-2018 season, it has taken a decade-long reconstruction effort to repair the platform after it was ravaged by a fire in 2007. Similarly, budget issues have affected Argentina’s recent Antarctic operations, best exemplified by the recent summer 2016- 2017 season, in which the government had trouble figuring out how to resupply its Antarctic bases.

As for other nations, platforms that are too old to continue operating safely are eventually replaced by other vessels, which is not the same as expanding a fleet in terms of numbers. For example, Peru’s Carrasco will replace BIC Humboldt, which was constructed in the late 1970s and has gone through extensive overhauls to extend its operational life. Similarly, the new Chilean icebreaker will replace Viel, which was constructed in the late 1960s. Other naval platforms utilized for Antarctic operations, including the PANC, will soon become outdated. For example, Chile deployed ATF Lautaro (67) to the 2016-2017 PANC mission, a vessel constructed in 1973, while Argentina deployed ARA Islas Malvinas (A24), constructed in the 1980s. While replacement platforms are always welcome, expanding fleets by acquiring newly constructed ships would be more practical as their operational lives would last much longer than repurposed, older vessels.

Map of Antarctica (NASA)

The aforementioned Argentine Almirante Irízar illustrates the benefits of a stronger commitment by regional states toward their Antarctic programs, including their naval platforms. While its post-fire reconstruction was extensive and lengthy, the Argentine government’s investment has made the vessel one of the 10 biggest icebreakers in the world, as well as one of the most capable. In a recent navigational test, the ship surpassed expectations, and showed no signs of the various previous problems it had when it first made its way to the Antarctic from Finland in 1978. Not only does the ship have improved navigation capabilities, but it is also now multipurpose, housing eight top-of-the-line scientific laboratories, and an overall scientific investigation sector six times larger than that of its original construction. Despite the lengthy timeline of the repair, the Argentine government’s decision to allocate scarce resources in revamping the Irizar is a Cinderella Story of sorts, as it exemplifies the benefits that could come from a bigger budget committed to Antarctic maritime operations. Obtaining a new vessel would have probably taken less time than repairing the Irizar, nevertheless, if reports are to be believed, this modernized vessel will be of great help for Argentina’s Antarctic operations for the foreseeable future.

Final Thoughts

Navies are usually viewed through the prism of defense and security; however they also play a critical role in Antarctic programs. Certainly other military services, government departments, and scientific institutions are other necessary pillars of any vibrant and robust Antarctic program, but navies are a sort of spearhead as they employ the primary platforms that deploy to this frozen continent. Hence it comes as no surprise that navies are prominently mentioned in the White Papers of several regional countries regarding Antarctic operations as they are engaged in various operations ranging from scientific activities to providing emergency assistance.

Countries like Peru and Chile are working on obtaining new platforms for Antarctic use while Colombia has refitted one of its navy’s vessels for these operations. Meanwhile, the Argentine and Chilean navies have come together to create a joint Antarctic naval patrol that has helped vessels and Antarctic bases in need. Finally, Uruguay’s scientific program and projects are also notable as they provide data that allows the multifaceted work of the Latin American countries in the region to continue operations safely and effectively.

The importance of Arctic and Antarctic geopolitics will increase due to climate change and the approaching year 2048, when the Antarctic Treaty is up for revision. The modernization of polar-capable vessels, such as Argentina’s Alimirante Irizar, if not the acquisition of newer ones like Peru’s Carrasco, will help Latin American navies increase the reliability and projection of already successful missions in Antarctica thereby fortifying Latin America’s presence and increasing its voice in regards to the future of the frozen continent.

For further info, see: “Reinvigorating Peru’s role in Antarctic geopolitics” (The Polar Journal, 2015) and “Argentina, Chile and the Joint Antarctic Naval Patrol: a successful confidence building mechanism” (The Polar Journal, 2017).

Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

Brittney J. Figueroa is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Featured Image: Chilean icebreaker in Brandy Bay, Antarctica. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Looks Like a Chilean War”: The Baltimore Incident as Counterfactual Exercise

Alternate History Topic Week

By Thomas Jamison

On October 16th 1891, a group of USS Baltimore sailors, no doubt happy to have liberty after months at sea, set off to enjoy the delights of Valparaiso, Chile. After several hours (of, let’s be honest, presumably heavy drinking), a scuffle broke out between local Chileans and the American crew. The ensuing violence left two U.S. sailors dead, seventeen injured and a hemispheric relationship in tatters. Unable to resolve the issue locally, the USS Baltimore’s commander telegraphed Washington for instructions. The Chileans, meanwhile, held fast to their jurisdiction over the U.S. personnel, and the investigative proceedings more broadly, as a matter of national sovereignty. From these humble sparks came a war crisis over hemispheric leadership and the relative standing of the United States as a “great power.”

To date, scholars have tended to underestimate the Baltimore Incident as “a mere tempest in a teapot,” or at best a signpost en route to the War of 1898. That the crisis has inspired relatively little comment in English literature should obscure neither its significance to contemporaries nor its enduring relevance to strategic planners. Indeed, the Baltimore Incident  might better be understood as an acute manifestation of the larger, chronic competition between the United States and Chile over regional autonomy and control. When, in 1891, Chilean leaders provoked a confrontation with the U.S, they sought political advantage from the crisis (at a domestic and international level) and had good reason to be optimistic. Chile had used its maritime forces and commercial partnerships to defeat Spain (1866), Peru (1884) and to overawe the United States into diplomatic concessions in 1882, 1885 and 1888. By 1891, however, the realities of power-politics in the American Pacific had shifted dramatically. In the United States imperialist sentiment, domestic military production and a dedicated navalist lobby all underwrote a newfound bellicosity and assertiveness. Opinion in Washington held that Chilean regional primacy represented a substantial threat to American expansionism and, moreover, the self-image of the United States in the “great power” system. National “honor” was no idle phrase in the Harrison administration.

At this 1891 juncture for the “dominant position in the Western Hemisphere,” war seemed likely, perhaps even inevitable. As The New York Times reported on Christmas Day 1891: “Looks like a Chilean War, Little Hope Now of a Peaceful Settlement.” Nonetheless, and  to the chagrin of many, hostilities were averted in late January 1892 when Chile acceded to U.S. demands. The tantalizing question remains, what might have been? What if the United States and Chile went to War in 1890? What ramifications would conflict have had for the U.S. emergence in the great power system? And as long as we’re entertaining counterfactuals, what might defeat at the hands of “little Chili” have spelled for navalist ambitions and the U.S. role in South America?

The United States, Chile and the Pacific at the Fin-De-Siècle Such an outcome was hardly a remote possibility. In 1884, Chile emerged from the War of the Pacific (its territorial struggle with Peru and Bolivia over nitrate deposits), as the dominant naval power in the Pacific. That result seems as incredible today as it was obvious to contemporary observes. Secretary of the Navy John Long complained that in the 1880s, “the American Navy was inferior to that of any European and at least one South American power. Little Chile, triumphant over Peru, could have sent her Admiral Cochrane and Huascar against San Francisco and the United States would have been unable to repel them.” Likewise, the prize winning essay of the U.S. Naval Institute in 1884 lamented, “in our present condition, Brazil, Chili or the Argentine Republic might send a fleet of ironclads to devastate our seaport cities.” Overseas, in 1881, the London Standard noted (smugly, but with little exaggeration), “The American Navy, if not a phantom fleet, would certainly find it difficult to compete successfully with the Chilean fleet.”

Those observations reflected the scope of Chile’s investment in naval supremacy along the Pacific Slope in the 1880s and 90s. Chilean President Jose Manuel Balmaceda argued in 1891: Chile should be able to resist on its own territory any possible coalition, and if it cannot succeed in attaining the naval power of the great powers, it should at least prove, on the base of a secure port and a fleet proportionate to its resources, that there is no possible profit in starting a war against the Republic of Chile. Resources were appropriated accordingly and with some notable success. The most prolific Chilean naval historian estimated that (in absolute terms) the “peak of Chilean naval power was in 1899.” In 1882 Chile rebuffed—rudely—U.S. attempts to mediate an end to the War of the Pacific. In 1885, it countered U.S. incursions against the Colombians by deploying a gunboat to Panama. Most tangibly, in 1888 Chile annexed Easter Island as a symbol of its hemispheric stature and, more practically, a strategic (coaling/early warning) asset. By 1894, in a revealing detail, Santiago even began to export surplus warships to Japan.

Of the Pacific’s many foreign observes, none eyed Chile’s position with more concern than the United States. The central U.S. political objectives of the late nineteenth century were hemispheric expansion and the development of overseas markets, primarily in Asia—what Seward called “the chief theater of events in the world’s great hereafter.” Both efforts were contingent on an Isthmian Canal and/or sea lines of communication around South America, which in practice pushed the U.S. toward a policy of hemispheric hegemony. Andrew Carnegie captured the spirit of the age in 1882 when he wrote to then Secretary of State James Blaine, “You are exactly right. America is going to control anything and everything on this Continent. That’s settled. . . . No joint arrangements, no entangling alliances with monarchical, war-like Europe. America will take this Continent in hand alone.” In such an environment of imperial  ascendancy (U.S.) and regional resistance (Chile), the Baltimore Incident, or some similar provocation, was almost inevitable. 

By December 1891, institutional and political incentives had pushed the would-be belligerents to the “ragged edge” of war. That month, as a U.S. task force transited toward South America, the USS Baltimore was replaced on station by the USS Yorktown, commanded by “Fighting Bob” Evans (an officer who could calmly confide in his journal, “I cannot see any good reason why I should not be perfectly civil and polite to [the Chileans], even if I have to shoot them tomorrow.”) Relations deteriorated further when, on New Year’s Eve 1891, the Chileans provocatively fired rockets in the Yorktown’s vicinity, and days later—some sources say —conducted torpedo drills using the U.S. vessel as a notional target. “Fighting Bob” Evans, surveying the scene from the Yorktown was typically blunt, “I don’t see how war can now be avoided.”

RADM Robley Dunglison "Fighting Bob" Evans
RADM Robley Dunglison “Fighting Bob” Evans

Waging War with “Little Chili” Bombast and hindsight aside, if it came to war between the U.S. and Chile the outcome remained highly contingent. U.S. navalist pretensions belied a central irony of the crisis. American leaders managed to assert that Chile was simultaneously a real threat to U.S. regional hegemony and that it would be relatively easy to defeat in an offensive war. That dissonance spoke to the larger uncertainty about the balance of power in the Pacific. Perceptions of Chilean naval expansion had helped spur U.S. naval expansion in the 1880s, but in 1891 U.S. forces remained relatively limited, and decidedly untested. Tracy, for one, was shocked to learn that “the best American naval expeditionary force which could be mustered at this time numbered scarcely twenty warships.” Moreover, many of these ships teetered on obsolescence. As the Naval Historian Timothy Wolters convincingly documented, in the 1890s:

Naval recapitalization in the United States lagged well behind political debates over, and public perceptions of, the new American navy. Intriguingly, the data show that immediately prior to the country’s war with Spain in 1898, the old navy still consumed about one-third of the navy’s fiscal resources, contributed three-sevenths of the service’s aggregate tonnage, and accounted for just over half of all vessels in the navy’s inventory.

The gap between perception and capability bred miscalculation. Establishing a clear balance of “real power” from which to base strategic planning was frustratingly imprecise.

That was all the more true because naval assessments at the fin-de-siècle were complicated by recent and largely untested developments in naval technology. Innovations in naval architecture (low-freeboard, armored warships; rapid firing guns) and the application of second industrial revolution technologies (electric firing systems; navigational aids; armor piercing shells) rendered traditional assessments of naval efficacy unsure. Chile’s fleet of torpedo boats, for example, presented a novel form of power in the Pacific. It was widely noted that during the Chilean Civil War, the Balmacedist navy had become the first in history to successfully use a propelled “automobile” torpedo to sink another warship. What impact these new weapons might have on the ability of the Chilean’s to defend their coast against aggression was hotly debated.

Complicating matters further were geographic realities that hampered U.S. deployments and ensnared military preparations with European shipyards. The Peruvian minister in Washington, Jose Yrigoyen, appreciated as much, cabling his government to describe “the difficulties the [U.S.] squadron will have in a war with Chile.” Without “coaling station in the Pacific,” he argued perceptibly, the U.S. ships would be forced to ferry coal from San Francisco, a “difficult task, above all if Chile dedicates a few of its ships to capturing this important element of the American squadron.” These geographic challenges injected a sobering realism into the United States’ preparations for war. No less than Mahan wrote, “we are so confident in our bigness and so little realize the great extra load entailed by the distance of Chili, in case of war.” Relatedly, in the winter of 1891, Chile retained the services of a British shipyard for additional ship construction over the objections of the Harrison administration. How the interruption of global supply lines via an Atlantic guerre de course might effect power projection in the Southern Hemisphere defied clear assessment. All this is to say, the war was hardly a foregone conclusion.

Indeed—looking forward to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War—we might even speculate about the use of torpedoes to asymmetrically attack U.S. capital ships (that is to apply a key innovation in second industrial revolution technology to obviate investments in steel, ships, guns etc…). The New York Times certainly did, arguing that “Naval constructors who advocate and powers that have adopted the policy of building larger and larger war ships with constantly- increasing thickness of armor will devote much study and sober thought to [Chile’s] first decisive exhibition of the effectiveness of the automobile torpedo in actual warfare.” Distance, new weapons systems and interruptible lines of communication all suggested that the United States might have fared no better than Spain had a generation (1866-72) earlier in its unsuccessful war with Peru and Chile (one which ended with the Spanish commander committing suicide to avoid humiliation). 

If Chile had defeated the United States in a limited regional war, it might have proved a a major setback for Tracy, Mahan and the like. It would likely have undermined U.S. stature in the great power system and elevated Chile on a par with, say, Japan. Indeed in the same way that Russian defeat in 1905 saw it recast as backwards, U.S. defeat might have seriously altered the time, place and manner in which it entered into the European great power system. It might also have seen Chile, backed by a commercial relationship with Great Britain, double-down on its program of navalist expansion and develop into a long-term regional competitor with the United States. It might even have encouraged Santiago to follow up on its territorial annexations (in the Atacama and Easter Island) to become a regional hegemon in its own right.

Conclusion

The resolution of the Baltimore Incident is at once a case study in crisis management and a cautionary tale of military and civilian leaders using war to advance their institutional interests. It is an equally useful reminder (and perhaps necessary corrective) of the limits of U.S. hemispheric control before 1890, and of the speed of the imperial-navalist transformation by 1898. The offensive capabilities of the United States morphed from a near-peer competitor with Chile in the 1880s into those of a global power in under a generation. In this sense, the Baltimore Incident is a window onto the United States “adapting to the status of a world power” amid a period of technological change and imperial rivalry.  The great diplomatic historian Ernest May argued that the United States became “a world power in many respects comparable to Great Britain or Russia or Imperial Germany” after the War of 1898. Looking back a decade, the Baltimore Incident marks an important precedent in a longer process of ascendancy. Considering alternative outcomes (namely defeat) further reminds us of that ascendancy’s contingent nature. As a nomological exercise, the Baltimore Incident suggests a raft conclusions. Namely, that regional actors often resist imperial hegemony in order to secure domestic cohesion; that military bureaucracies incentivize the militarization of foreign policy; and that technological progress can rapidly destabilize the balance of power, encouraging misperceptions and bellicosity. These tendencies belong as much to the twenty first century as they do the nineteenth. Parallels between the Baltimore Incident and recent Sino-Japanese tensions, to name one possible example, are almost irresistible. Consider in this analogy China as the Harrisonian United States and Japan as Chile; supported then, as now, by the world’s leading commercial power. It is conceivable, as in 1891, that a minor incident, like an attack on a foreign owned business, could encourage nationalist posturing in Beijing as a means to (1) rally domestic support, (2) advance the interests of recapitalizing military forces (a process ongoing in both China and Japan), and (3) assert regional primacy. That possibility should be especially concerning because of the comparative proximity of China and Japan and the profound uncertainties created by the militarization of digital technology. A critical perspective on the Baltimore Incident should sensitize policymakers to this relevant, but under-appreciated war scare. It should also reinforce the imperative of clear assessments of power as a tool for conflict mitigation amid the exaggerations of modern-day nationalism.

Tommy Jamison is a PhD candidate in International History at Harvard University. From 2009 to 2014 he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. The views expressed here are his own. 

Polar Shipping: A 2014 Recap

By Captain David (Duke) Snider, FNI FRGS
The year 2014 was indeed one of intriguing activity in the Polar Regions. The maritime world and public in general began the year captivated by the almost hourly updates from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, captive in the Antarctic Ice.  
 
Antarctic CaptivityIt certainly wasn’t the first time a ship had become beset in polar ice conditions, nor will it be the last. What caught the attention of the world was that modern technology and the thirst for a moment in the spotlight prompted regular Internet postings by blog and other means highlighting the “plight” of the ship from several onboard.  French and Chinese light icebreakers attempted to close the distance between open water and the beset ship but could not get sufficiently close to break her out. Even the United States Coast Guard’s Polar Star was diverted to assist. The decision was then made to fly a helicopter from the Chinese ship Xue Long to repatriate the hapless high paying passengers and “science party”. A short time later, having never declared a distress, and knowing the ice conditions would change, the Master and crew steamed clear of the ice under their own power. In the end, the Australian government shelled out nearly $2m Australian in “rescue efforts”. Shortly after the Akademik Shokalskiy steamed clear of the ice, the Russians felt the situation had been so distorted as to its danger in the press that a formal statement was made at IMO making it clear that the Akademik Shokalskiy and her crew were well suited to the conditions, and at no time in danger and that the Master of the vessel did not declare distress.

The Polar Code

The playing out of the Akademik Shokalskiy incident became a backdrop for more frenzied efforts at IMO to finalize drafts and meet Secretary General Koji Sekimizu’s desire for a mandatory Polar Code as soon as practicable.  

Throughout 2014, various committees, sub-committees and working groups struggled to finalize consensus-based drafts of a Polar Code; however, the Secretary General’s strict timetable demanding an adoption before 2017 unfortunately resulted in the gradual streamlining of the initial robust drafts. In order to meet the timelines set down, issues that were remotely contentious or not subject to almost total consensual agreement were watered down or omitted.  

Many parties were disappointed to see a much weaker document evolve into what was finally approved by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in November. Others leapt to declare a new age of safety and environmental protection for Antarctic and Arctic waters. 

Come the end of 2014, the Polar Code was still some way from actualization. The entire Part II – Prevention of Pollution must still go through the Maritime Environmental Protection Committee adoption, then the Council must approve both parts submitted by MSC and MEPC. Still, given the SG’s direction, there will be a mandatory Polar Code in existence by the first of 2017; however, it will not be the powerful and robust direction it was originally envisioned to be.  

As a result, many classification societies and flag states are already issuing “guidance” to close gaps that have been left by the leaner “more friendly” Polar Code. The Nautical Institute is moving forward with their plans to put in place an Ice Navigation Training and Certification Scheme to meet basic requirements of the human element chapter of the Polar Code with defined standards of training and certification.

Ice Conditions

Climatically, 2014 was more in line with 2013 as a heavier ice year overall in the Arctic this summer. This followed a particularly bad year in the North American East coast, where heavier ice trapped ships and lengthened the icebreaker support season into May. In the Arctic, conditions were much tougher than the low record years of the past decade that led up to the last two. No one with any real understanding of global climate change would suggest that 2013 and 2014 can be held as the “end of global warming”; however the variability experienced shows that it will not be easy-going for polar shipping in the near future and that ice conditions will continue to wax and wane.

Polar Traffic

Traffic in the Polar Regions still has not met the expectations of some over-optimistic forecasts. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) experienced a dramatic reduction in traffic this year. Less than two dozen full transits were reported and initial figure indicate only 274,000 tons of cargo moved compared to 2013’s 1,356,000 tons. Though ice conditions in the NSR were somewhat more difficult in 2014, conditions were heavier in the Canadian Arctic. 

Notably absent this year was an expected repeat Northwest Passage transit by Nordic Bulk after their landmark Nordic Orion voyage in 2013. Fednav’s latest arrival, MV Nunavik, did however make a westbound transit late in the season.

Routine destination traffic, which includes the resupply of Arctic communities and export of resources, continues to show incremental increases in both the NSR and Northwest Passage (NWP). However there has been some cooling of interest in hydrocarbon exploration over the past year, whether it is as a result of sanctions against Russia for their activities related to Ukraine, or uncertainty of regulatory environment in American waters.  

In the Antarctic region, traffic statistics remain static, driven mainly by research, resupply of research stations and the occasional adventure cruise vessel.

Ice Ship Orders and Construction

The growing interest in polar ice shipping is being felt in ship orders and construction. Numerous ice class ships are on the order books, and some notable orders and deliveries are those of Nordic Bulk with their Baltic ice class new builds and Canada’s Fednav with delivery of their newest icebreaker cargo ship Nunavik. The latter made news with the first unescorted commercial cargo vessel transit of the Northwest Passage this summer.  

Russia has announced and commenced the construction of their new design conventionally powered icebreakers as well as three LK60 nuclear powered icebreakers. Russia is also building a number of icebreaking search and rescue vessels to meet their commitment to increase SAR capability after wholeheartedly embracing the Arctic Council’s 2010 Arctic SAR agreement.  

At the beginning of the year, Russia took possession of the novel oblique icebreaker, Baltica.  Shortly after delivering the Baltica, Finland’s Arctech Helsinki Shipyard announced a contract to build three icebreakers for the Northeast Sakhalin oil and gas field. Perhaps the largest Russian driven high ice class construction is the DSME designed 170,000m3 icebreaking LNGCs to be built for LNG export from the new Yamal field. These ships will be operated by a number of companies including SOVCOMFLOT, MOL and Teekay over the life of the Yamal project. A fleet of six support icebreakers for port and channel clearing, as well as line support in heavier coastal ice will also be built. Three more ice class shuttle tankers were ordered from Samsung Heavy Industries by SOVCOMFLOT for delivery by April 2017.

China is building a new icebreaker to complement their secondhand Xue Long, delivery in 2016; Britain has begun the work to acquire a new 130m icebreaker for delivery in 2019; Australia intends to replace the Aurora Australis hoped for by 2018 with the bidding narrowed to three contenders in the fall; Germany is not far behind in plans to replace the venerable Polar Stern; and, Finland has a new Baltic LNG fuelled Icebreaker under construction and has announced a billion Euro plan to replace their current fleet of icebreakers in coming years. 

India has also announced plans to build a polar research icebreaker to be operational before the end of the decade. Columbia has announced plans to build and send an ice-capable research ship to Antarctica while Chile’s president announced in December plans to build an ice-capable research ship for Antarctic service as soon as practicable.

Though the American built light icebreaker research vessel Sikiluaq entered service this past year, the United States and Canada continue to be mired in indecision or delays with respect to ice-capable ship construction. There are no clear plans to consider replacing the ageing United States Coast Guard’s polar class ships, and Canada’s much vaunted announcement of the acquisition of the new generation polar icebreaker, which was named by the government as the John G. Diefenbaker, has seen cost increases and delays in delivery. The original delivery of 2017, for the Diefenbaker has slid to the right, first to 2020 and now rumored to be 2022.  Reports now indicate the original construction cost of $750m CDN has climbed to well over $1.2B CDN. Given the advancing age of Canada’s venerable icebreaking fleet, it is surprising that only one replacement has been approved.  

The Royal Canadian Navy’s plans to build 6-8 ice-class Arctic Offshore Patrol vessels has experienced similar cost overruns and delays even before steel has been cut. News reports at the end of 2014 indicated the number of ships that could be obtained would likely be fewer than originally announced, and only three vessels could be built for the allocated budget.

Changes in Arctic Offshore

Russia’s almost frantic growth in Arctic exploration and exploitation over the past decade has taken a downturn in the past months. As a result of increasing sanctions put in place by European Union, the United States and other nations, and the rapidly dropping price of oil in the last weeks of 2014, Russia has either seen the gradual pulling away of western partners, or has terminated contracts themselves (such as the recent termination of contracts with Norwegian OSV operators), and reduced projections for hydrocarbon export. As a result, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities in the Russian Arctic began to slow in the latter part of the year.   

In the midst of pullbacks from exploration, Russia has continued to bolster their Arctic presence, opening the first three of ten Arctic search and rescue centers in 2014, taking delivery of the first of six icebreaking search and rescue ships and increasing naval presence capability.

Risks Remain Evident

Just as the situation with the Akademik Shokalskiy indicated in the Antarctic in the beginning of the year (in the latter part of the Antarctic shipping season), an incident with a Northern Transportation Company Limited barge adrift in the Beaufort Sea at the end of the Arctic shipping season highlighted the remote nature of polar shipping operations.  In each case, the situations were exacerbated by the lack of nearby rescue resources. While the Akademik Shokalskiy eventually broke free on her own, the NTCL barge was left to freeze into the ice over the winter as the tug initially towing was unable to reconnect and no other resources were close enough to recover the nearly empty fuel barge.

Discovery of the Wreck of HMS Erebus

One long standing search and recovery mission did result in a very successful search this year as the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier and onboard researchers from Canadian Hydrographic Services and Parks Canada discovered the well preserved remains of Sir John Franklin’s flag ship HMS Erebus in the waters near to King William Island in the Canadian central Arctic.  

Under command of Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and Terror set out from England in the mid 1800’s in what was thought to be the most technologically advanced and therefore “bound to be successful” effort to discover and sail the Northwest Passage. Tragically, both of Franklin’s ships became hopelessly trapped in the ice, the crews eventually abandoned both vessels and were never seen alive again. Most of the Canadian Arctic was charted in the many searches at sea and from ashore in search of survivors, many relics were discovered including a note that described the abandonment, but the vessels themselves remained lost until this summer when HMS Erebus was discovered.

This post originally appeared in The Maritime Executive.

How Peru Got its Territory Back

Territorial conflict has been a continuing problem in South America and is often related to the possession of natural resources that represent a considerable income to the countries in dispute. On January 27, 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave its verdict on a case brought before the court in 2008 by Peru, which asserted a territorial claim on approximately 38,000 sq km of the Pacific Ocean bordering with Chile. The court ruled in Peru’s favour, in a judgment that was widely regarded as fair.

This is not the first confrontation between Peru and Chile. “Guerra del Pacifico” War of the Pacific (1879-1883) was a well-known conflict between both countries and resulted in the annexation of valuable disputed territory on the Pacific coast. It grew out of a dispute between Chile, Peru and Bolivia over control of a part of the Atacama Desert located between 23rd to 26th parallels of the South American Pacific coast, known for an abundance of mineral resources, particularly sodium nitrate.

After years of confrontation between the three countries, Chile and Peru signed the Treaty of Ancón relinquishing the Province of Tarapacá as well as the departments of Arica and Tacna to Chile in 1883. These territories would remain under Chilean control, however, the two nations were unable to agree on how or when to hold the plebiscite, and in 1929, both  countries signedthe Treaty of Lima, in which Peru gained Tacna and Chile maintained control of Arica. Even though Peru regained Tacna, some fishing dominions were given to Chile thereby angering Peruvians financially dependent on artisanal fishing. Diplomatic relations between the two nations have consequently remained tense for many years.

Today both countries are once again disputing, this time in relation to claims on maritime territories. The issue was brought to the fore in 2008 when Peru filed the claim at the International Court of Justice in The Hague that marine boundaries had never been formally agreed upon by the two countries and needed objective international approval. In its defense, Chile posits that the line had been defined in agreements signed in 1952 and 1954, which Peru argued were strictly fishing accords.

After 5 years of tension, the court has finally ordered that the common marine border be redrawn to follow the current border for 80 miles from the coast but then will veer southwest for 120 miles, giving Peru the disputed “external triangle.” The current border runs due west from the coast for a full 200 miles, a demarcation that Chile has enforced since it won the Pacific War with Peru and Bolivia.

In a statement issued after the verdict was announced, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said “Peru is pleased with the outcome” of the court’s decision, and would “take the required actions and measures immediately for its prompt implementation.” The Peruvian government also said that the decision applied to nearly 19,000 square miles of offshore territory, or more than half of the 37,000 square miles it originally sought. Peru’s fishing industry estimates that the disputed zone has an annual catch of 565m Peruvian nuevo soles ($200m; £121m), particularly of anchovies which are used to make fishmeal. Peru will also gain access to some extra swordfish, tuna and giant squid.

Peru’s victory will not only significantly increase income in its fishing industry, but will also go a long way in restoring nationalism after a humiliating defeat to Chile in the 19th Century.

Alternatively, Michelle Bachelet, who will assume the Chilean presidency in March, stressed that even though Chile had lost none of its territorial waters (which extend for 12 nautical miles from the coast), the ruling is a “painful loss” considering the importance of this external triangle. As a condition for implementing the agreement representatives from the government of Chile have also suggested that Peru sign an International Convention on the Law of the Sea and accept the line through Hito 1 as its land border (losing 350 meters of beach); an agreement Peru remains reluctant to address, hoping instead for swift implementation of the ICJ’s verdict.

Andrea was born in Bogota, Colombia, and immigrated to Canada in 2006. She graduated in June 2012 from York University with a Bilingual BA in International Studies. After finishing her BA, she moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where she had the opportunity to do an internship with the World Health Organization (WHO). She is pursuing a Double Master in Public Policy and Human Development at the University of Maastricht, Holland. This article was re-published by permission and appeared in original form at The Atlantic Council of Canada.