A new Peruvian scientific expedition in Antarctica, named ANTAR XXIV, concluded in early March. Peru has had a presence in Antarctica dating back to the late 1980s and while the country does not claim territory there, it is nevertheless imperative for Lima to have a constant and vibrant presence as Antarctica’s importance increases in the coming years. The recent addition of a new oceanographic vessel is a welcome development as this platform will help Peru’s Antarctic program develop.
“Peru has had a presence in Antarctica dating back to the late 1980s and while the country does not claim territory there, it is nevertheless imperative for Lima to have a constant and vibrant presence as Antarctica’s importance increases in the coming years.”
Peru And The Frozen Continent
Peru is a member of the Antarctic Treaty System the international system that monitors Antarctica; it joined the Antarctic Treaty in 1981, became a Consultative Status member in 1989 and signed the Environment Protocol in 1998. Additionally, the country’s 2005 White Book has a section discussing Peru’s history in said region.
Peru’s first expedition occurred in 1988, during the first term of former President Alan Garcia (1985-1990) and since then, it has maintained a small but continuous presence in Antarctica. The country has a semi-permanent base, Machu Picchu , in King George Island, and also a polar vessel, BIC Humboldt. Unfortunately, Humboldt is an old platform, as it was constructed in 1978 by the Peruvian shipyard Servicios Industriales de la Marina, with German assistance, and had to undergo major upgrades as recently as 2012 to extend its operational life.
Thankfully Peru will not have to rely on Humboldt for much longer as the Ollanta Humala presidency (2011-2016) ordered a new oceanographic polar vessel, BAP Carrasco (BOP-171), which was constructed by the Spanish shipyard Freire. The new vessel was handed-over to a Peruvian crew in late March and Carrasco will hopefully participate in the 2018 campaign. The author is not aware of Lima’s plans for Humboldt, but hopefully it will continue to operate in a support capacity so that Peru can have a polar fleet, not just one vessel.
As for ANTAR XXIV it was carried out from 9 January until 5 March. Air Force Coronel Wolker Lozada Maldonado commanded the expedition which reportedly had 33 specialists .
The author will put forward three overlapping reasons why Peru needs to maintain a constant presence, if not larger than it currently has, in Antarctica.
First, the frozen continent is becoming crowded: there are seven countries, including Argentina and Chile, have territorial claims in Antarctica. Additionally, global powers like the U.S and China , have bases there. Even more, new countries are developing their own Antarctic programs. One prime example is neighboring Colombia , which recently carried out its third Antarctic expedition via a domestically-manufactured vessel, ARC 20 de Julio. In other words, Peru should not fall behind in this race for Antarctica.
Second, a key date to keep in mind is 2048, when ATS comes up for review (until 2048 the Protocol can only be modified by unanimous agreement of all Consultative Parties’). While Peru does not claim Antarctic territory, it is important that the Peruvian government has a seat at the table of negotiations when Antarctica’s future is decided. One method to achieve this is by carrying out relevant scientific research, e.g. ongoing Peruvian studies of the krill , during the ANTAR expeditions.
Finally, climate change is affecting the global ecosystem, including the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, and there will be a growing interest to exploit the region’s natural and mineral resources. As discussed in the paragraph above, Peru must be in a position in which it can have a relevant voice in these inevitable discussions in order to protect the country’s interests.
Peru’s presence in Antarctica over the past three decades should be a source of national pride for the Andean nation. As the region’s importance grows and the year 2048 approaches, Peru must continue to have a vibrant role in Antarctic affairs. The acquisition of Carrasco is a very positive development and which will hopefully be followed by other initiatives so that the Peruvian flag will be ever-present in Antarctica.
For more information see: Reinvigorating Peru’s role in Antarctic Geopolitics . W. Alejandro Sanchez and Otto Tielemans Jr. The Polar Journal. Vol. 5/Issue 1. June 2015. P. 101-112.
W. Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
W. Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter.