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Friday, January 4, 2013

Frigate homecoming stuck in the mud?

by Michael Soltys

Herald staff

Sandy beaches might be a holiday-maker’s dream but sand could also prove to be a government nightmare — a sand-bank silting up the main access channel to the port of Mar del Plata stands to frustrate the triumphant return of the naval training frigate Libertad from Ghana, scheduled for next Wednesday (January 9), naval experts confirmed yesterday.

“Emergency dredging” could solve the problem, said Argentine Naval League vice-president Fernando Morales, but there is not much time.

“The frigate has a shallower draught than a freighter but this sand-bank has narrowed the access channel so much that its mooring manoeuvres could be hampered,” he explained.

Morales questioned the change of the naval flagship’s destination to Mar del Plata as “a political decision, which does not seem to be the most convenient in operational terms.”

The Libertad was originally expected to return to its base in this capital but in a December 19 speech celebrating the vessel’s release from Ghana (where it had been impounded at the behest of “holdout” creditors), President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner apparently improvised the change of destination to Mar del Plata — with the presumed aim of impressing the million or more holiday-makers in the Atlantic resort this month.

Meanwhile the emergency dredging work faces a few sand-banks of its own. Firstly, this work is in the context of a more general 90-million-peso dredging tender which is still in progress. Secondly, time is extremely short right in the middle of the summer holiday season. And thirdly, the men who will actually do the work belong to the dredging and buoy-laying trade union headed by Juan Carlos Schmidt, a staunch ally of dissident CGT leader Hugo Moya- no who has been embroiled in an increasingly fierce confrontation with the president over the last year — Schmidt thus might not have the best political will in the world to help CFK out of her latest difficulty.

The shortage of time also stands in the way of seeking a solution abroad — the key to supplying Argentina’s Antarctic bases this summer, according to Administrative Resolution 1421 published yesterday in the Official Gazette, which contracts for that purpose one polar vessel and two heavy helicopters from Russia on a “time charter” worth 10,420,842 dollars. The Russian vessel Vasily Golovnin will thus replace the Argentine ice-breaker ARA Almirante Irízar, still undergoing repairs since a 2007 blaze, in supplying six permanent and seven temporary Antarctic bases.

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