ARA Bahía Paraíso in the Falklands War of 1982

The polar transport ARA “Bahía Paraíso” was the first ship that was configured as a hospital ship of the Sea Fleet during the 1982 conflict. After having participated in Puerto Leith and Grytviken in the actions that allowed the recovery of the South Georgia Islands , was transformed from a multipurpose ship to a hospital ship in a period of 10 days by engineers, technicians and workers from the Puerto Belgrano Naval Arsenal. She sailed from the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base to the Malvinas Islands on April 27, 1982.

The ARA “Bahía Paraíso” polar ship, during the Malvinas War, fulfilled an essential logistical function: it became a true hospital at sea, returning from operations to its usual station in the city of Buenos Aires on June 27, 1982.

Being a polar resupply ship, its characteristics were what made it possible to transform it into a hospital ship, taking advantage of its spacious accommodation, operating room and hospitalization room. In addition, the ship had drinking water available, which was essential.

First combat actions

While he was participating in his first Summer Antarctic Campaign, that of 1981/82, he was assigned the mission of stationing himself in the South Georgia Islands, where at the end of March special forces landed in Port Leith – to support some shipwreckers Argentines–. Days later, on April 3, he was part of the recovery of the South Georgia Islands.

On board was a Puma helicopter from the Argentine Army, which transported Marines to Grytviken; and an Alouette helicopter from the First Helicopter Naval Air Squadron, which initially carried out reconnaissance flights, and then took care of transporting the wounded, who received care aboard the “Bahía Paraíso”.

With the recovery of South Georgia, 35 British prisoners of war were housed in cabins on the lower decks and transferred to the mainland.

First hospital ship

After the first actions, the “Bahía Paraíso” was configured as a hospital ship; and in 10 days of work in the General Workshops of the Puerto Belgrano Naval Arsenal, she transformed it from a polar ship to a hospital ship, being the first to become such.

The Department of Health in Combat was formed, which was made up of 17 doctors, 4 dentists, 2 biochemists and 60 non-commissioned officers and nurses; completing the new function with instruction to the crew to optimize health care.

Beds were added and two general hospital rooms with 125 beds each were created; 10 cabins were given 4 beds for hospitalization, two reception and classification centers for the wounded were established, one on the main deck and the other in the hangar, and using the hospitalization room that the operating room had, the intensive care room was created. In total there were 300 beds and four operating rooms, one of them for maxillofacial and ophthalmological surgery. In addition, premises were adapted on board to establish clinical analysis and hemotherapy laboratories; two fully equipped x-ray rooms; cast room; a chemical detox station; intensive therapy with a capacity of 10 beds; mortuary and a burn room for 20 internees. The ship had a helicopter deck and two helicopters on board;

This group was formed on board by sections: the surgical area –surgery, traumatology and ophthalmology–, a clinic and the Combat Health Center, which monitored the patient from the moment he entered the unit. The Chief of the Surgical Center of the “Bahía Paraíso” hospital ship was Medical Ship Lieutenant Alberto Coleta.

A logistics group completed the work team, they were in charge of replenishing antibiotics, X-ray plates and all the necessary supplies. The biochemists did the analysis and maintenance of the blood; while in the Hemotherapy Department a system with supports was invented so that the blood would not be ruined by the movement of the vessel and would last 30 days.       

Red crosses were painted on the ship, cabins were evicted to convert them into trauma recovery rooms, a new operating room was set up and the intensive care room was organized in the infirmary. Likewise, two storerooms were modified as an intermediate hospitalization room and one of the warehouses was conditioned as a recovery room for minor injuries.

Then, in Ushuaia, the hospital ship requirements were completed in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention for a ship in that role during a war; and on behalf of the International Red Cross two observers embarked.

The rescue of the survivors of the “Belgrano”

A few days after setting sail from the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base, on May 2 he received the news of the attack on the ARA “General Belgrano” cruise ship and arrived at the sinking area two days later. With the support of the exploration aircraft of the Naval Aviation, which flew over the area of ​​the wreck, they located the position of the rafts

The “Bahía Paraíso” rescued from the sea 71 sailors alive from the “Belgrano” and 17 deceased, returning on May 12. The ship took them to Ushuaia, and then set sail again for Malvinas.

Towards the end of the war

The “Bahía Paraíso” returned to the core of the conflict on May 29. She arrived in Puerto Argentino on June 1st. The task of evacuating the wounded was limited to five hours and, while it was happening, the small boats were patronized to receive provisions.

The ship returned to the continent with evacuees, among whom were the crew members of the merchant ship “Río Carcarañá” and the transport “Bahía Buen Suceso”, and returned to Malvinas on June 10. On the 14th, the day of the ceasefire, the “Bahía Paraíso” was in Punta Quilla and from there it moved to Puerto Argentino to fulfill the mission of recovering personnel and producing discharges for combat, they also embarked 2100 men from the Argentine Army to be withdrawn to the mainland.

The return

The “Bahía Paraíso” transported 70% of the Marines of the Infantry Battalion No. 5 (BIM5) back to the mainland, disembarking them at the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base in a very heartfelt trip for the crew, sharing with them their anecdotes, emotions and experiences of war on the surface. The crew all clasped them in their arms.

During her mission as a hospital ship she had contact with the hospital ships HMHS “Uganda” and the hospital ship “Herald”. They carried out an exchange of patients and materials, since “Uganda” had run out of certain supplies and units of blood, which were provided by “Bahía Paraíso”.         

The ship was adapted to all the provisions of the Geneva Convention to alleviate the fate of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked of the Armed Forces at sea, of August 12, 1949, making the relevant communications to the Committee of the International Red Cross.

After the end of the armed conflict, the “Bahía Paraíso” participated in the withdrawal operations to the continent of the Argentine combatants and wounded, between June 17 and 22.

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