January 13, 2021 (Google Translation) – The Ministry of Science and Innovation has decided to cancel the participation of BIO Hespérides in the Spanish Antarctic campaign to avoid any risk of spreading the virus among the personnel participating in the campaign and its possible introduction into the Antarctic Treaty area. This decision has been made after 35 positives of COVID-19 were detected in the oceanographic vessel, which is located in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with the entire crew in quarantine and under medical supervision. This exceptional measure seeks to protect the research and technical personnel (civil and military), who as of January 20 will carry out their activities at the Spanish Antarctic bases Gabriel de Castilla and Juan Carlos I, from where evacuation capacities are slow and limited.
Most of the planned research projects have had to be rescheduled in terms of length and number of participants. The oceanographic project that would be developed on board the BIO Hespérides is currently canceled. The technical personnel that keep the bases operational have also been reduced to the minimum necessary for their maintenance and support of scientific activities in safe conditions. The total duration of the campaign will be limited to 1 month during which it has been tried to maintain as much scientific activity as possible, developing 5 scientific projects and 4 historical series.
The campaign will be carried out with the support of the Sarmiento de Gamboa Research Vessel, which left Vigo on December 16 and will arrive in Punta Arenas (Chile) on January 15. The bases will remain open until the end of February.
The first group of scientific and technical personnel to open the bases, around January 22, is in Punta Arenas (Chile), doing a 14-day quarantine since last January 4. The second and final group of researchers will fly to Punta Arenas at the end of this week to begin the 14-day quarantine in that town.
The Spanish Antarctic Campaign constitutes a model of cooperation between different public and private institutions at the service of R & D & I, within the framework of the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation. The Ministry of Science and Innovation finances the operation and maintenance of the ships ‘Hespérides’ and ‘Sarmiento de Gamboa’ and the expenses associated with the general logistics of the campaign, and collaborates in the expenses of the Spanish Antarctic bases ‘Gabriel de Castilla’ and ‘Juan Carlos I’. For its part, the State Research Agency finances the majority of research projects. Through the Spanish Polar Committee, the activities that the different organizations develop during the campaigns are coordinated.
The entities participating in these activities are the CSIC’s Marine Technology Unit, which manages the Sarmiento de Gamboa and the BAE Juan Carlos I on Livingston Island and coordinates the general logistics of the Antarctic campaign; the Army, which manages the BAE Gabriel de Castilla on Deception Island and the Navy, which operates the BIO Hespérides. Both the ships and the Antarctic bases are part of the Spanish map of Singular Scientific and Technological Infrastructures (ICTS), facilities, resources or exceptional services of their kind, with a very high investment, maintenance and operation cost and whose importance and strategic nature justifies its availability for the entire R + D + I group.