P. Edronkin

The Story Of Captain Tarapow And His Icebreaker

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April 2007: A fire develops on board the A.R.A. Almirante Irizar, a massive ship and the only icebreaker in the southern hemisphere; everyone abandons the vessel, except the captain; the ships seems to hang on, as well as the captain.

The A.R.A. Almirante Irizar is a big ship commissioned back in 1980; with it, the Argentine Navy communicates by sea South America and Antarctica. It is also the only icebreaker based in the southern hemisphere. It carries almost 300 crew members, a couple of heavy helicopters and an assortment of sophisticated equipment that it is used to open the way thorough the Antarctic ice every year. It has served as a hospital ship during the South Atlantic war, in 1982 and has performed dozens of rescue operations.

There are only a handful of icebreakers in the world and in the southern seas only the Irizar and perhaps one or two Russian or U.S. vessels of the same class operate year long. Needless to say, every nation or research establishment operating in Antarctica is blessed by the presence of the icebreakers.

Sadly, a few days ago it caught fire for yet unclear reasons as it sailed back from Antarctica, a few miles off the Patagonian coast. Apparently it was a generator, then a chain reaction that caused more damage and an uncontrollable fire; since the ship carries several helicopters as well as a lot of fuel - sometimes it has to spend months in a row in the middle of the ice -, the ship's skipper ordered all crew members and passengers to abandon ship because an explosion seemed inevitable.

The rescue operation was flawless: There were no casualties even thought the sea was rough, the emergency occurred during the night and in the waters around the vessel sharks were reported. Captain Guillermo Tarapow, however, elected to stay onboard as the sole and last occupant.

Later on, other ships approached the Irizar and currently are trying to evaluate the damages and tow it to the nearest suitable port in Patagonia. Everyone is hoping that the ship survives, and not only the Argentine navy because it is like an insurance policy for everyone down near the south pole. The ship is one of the most popular vessels all across the Internet and it even has its own fans club.

Meanwhile, no word has been heard from Mr. Nestor Kirchner, the president and commander in chief; he has made no comments so far and no inquiries as of the state of the crew, the passengers or the fate of Captain Tarapow.

As for the captain, whether his presence onboard will make any difference is something yet to be seen; however, surely enough he is not only acting based on true naval tradition, but out of professional responsibility, and this should be commended. By leading with his example he probably is now morally ahead from most politicians and government officials that are at least on paper, his bosses, especially in his native country, Argentina.

Captains and commanders in chief are never made on paper; true leaders are made and recognised during true ordeals.

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