Scientific expedition team of 43 members to leave for Antarctica from Goa on January 6
India’s 40th scientific expedition to Antarctica will leave on a ship from Goa on Wednesday with 43 members, less than half of the conventional strength of 100, due to Covid-19 restrictions, officials said on Monday.
The team comprises scientists, engineers, doctors and technicians and is led by three polar veterans, said Javed Beg, group director (Antarctic Operations and Infrastructure) at the National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research (NCPOR) in Goa.
The team was given a formal send off at the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) in Vasco town of South Goa on Monday by senior officials of the NCPOR, the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), which is providing fuel for the expedition, and the India Post, which has released a special stamp to mark the occasion.
A senior IOC official here said the ship will leave the port on Wednesday, from where it will sail to Cape Town in South Africa.
Beg said the expedition members and stand-by candidates underwent a rigorous examination at the government-run Goa Medical College and Hospital near here.
This was followed by the institutional 14-day quarantine with multiple rounds of RT-PCR tests, supplemented by sanitsation of the cargo and upgradation of medical facilities at the Antarctica station, he said.
“The expedition leaders are under tremendous pressure to make do with half the team strength, but we place our trust in the team’s determination, ability and resilience which has been on display time and again over the years,” he said.
Beg said the vessel will sail from the MPT to Cape Town, from where it will reach Antarctica in about 18 days.
Two helicopters would be added to the expedition at Cape Town. The vessel will leave from there for India’s Bharati research station in Antarctica, covering the journey in around 16 days.
The vessel will then travel to the country’s other research station, Maitri, in Antarctica, he said.
The travel distance of the ship will depend on the condition of sea ice, he said.
Dr Yogesh Ray from the NCPOR, Atul Suresh Kulkarni from the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism and Ravindra Santosh More from the India Meteorological Department will be leading the team, he said.
“Cautious steps have been taken to avoid contraction and spread of Covid-19 on board the expedition vessel and in Antarctica,” he said.
Beg said the team will also relieve 48 members from the Indian scientific expedition who are working since the last 15 months at Antarctica, while resupplying the bases (Bharati and Maitri) with food, fuel, provisions and spares for operations and maintenance of life support systems.
NCPOR Director M Ravichandran said polar regions are crucially important in answering key questions on global climate change, its contribution towards global sea-level rise, background aerosol properties, variability in sea ice cover and phenomena like the Antarctic haze and Ozone concentration.
Meanwhile, in a significant development, the Antarctica expedition is taking fuel from India after about 22 years. Till the last expedition, the fuel was taken from outside the country, an IOC official said.
IOC’s Director (Marketing) Gurmeet Singh said aviation fuel Jet A1 has been supplied in bulk for the expedition.
Historically, the Indian Oil has been a preferred fuel partner in national endeavours, such as the defence services and Railways, he said.
“Now, with its association with the 40th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA), the corporation has earned the unique distinction of providing uninterrupted availability of petroleum products from the coldest region of the country- Leh- to the coldest region of the world- Antarctica,” he said.
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