35 cases of COVID-19 in a Spanish Navy oceanographic vessel traveling to Antarctica

The oceanographic vessel Hespérides of the Spanish Navy was due to arrive in the remote south of Chile on January 28, however, a few days after leaving Cartagena, the first cases of COVID-19 were detected. Faced with the risk of contagion from the entire Spanish Antarctic expedition, the Hespérides docked in the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to carry out tests on all its crew members.

The result is without palliative: 35 positive for coronavirus among its 57 crew members. Thus, the Navy and the Ministry of Science and Innovation have decided to suspend the trip. When the quarantine and sanitary work on board is over, you will return to Cartagena.

“This exceptional measure seeks to protect the research and technical personnel (civil and military), who as of January 20 will carry out their activities in the Spanish Antarctic bases Gabriel de Castilla and Juan Carlos I, from where evacuation capacities are slow and limited “explains the Ministry statement.

Thus, the Spanish Antarctic scientific campaign is mutilated from one of its great pillars. The missions that were to be carried out on board have been canceled and other research projects that remain have had to be rescheduled or modified.

This year’s expedition has been reduced from the usual six months to just one month. Base technical staff assisting scientists has been reduced to a minimum. The researchers will have the support of the Sarmiento de Gamboa oceanographic ship, which depends on the Higher Center for Scientific Research that will arrive in Punta Arenas (Chile) this Friday, January 15, after a month of crossing.

The first consignment of personnel arrived in Punta Arenas on January 4 and is ending its quarantine period before opening the scientific bases, initially next week.

A second group of researchers will travel this week by plane to Punta Arenas where they will have to quarantine.

In the Spanish Antarctic Campaign, public and private research organizations cooperate with the Navy and the Army to develop national and international research projects as contemplated in the Antarctic Treaty.

Antarctica remained free of COVID-19 for almost the entire year 2020, however at the end of December Chile confirmed 36 cases, 10 civilians and 26 military personnel among personnel who carried out maintenance work at the General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme base.