UTN graduate in charge of the reconstruction of the ARA Almirante Irízar Icebreaker

It’s Eng. Raúl Ramis, Graduate Representative of the Department of Naval Engineering. The team who worked in the project also included 20 students from this School of Engineering.

Publicada el 8 de febrero de 2018

The repair and transformation project of the Almirante Irízar Icebreaker was led by Eng. Raúl Ramis, Graduate Representative of the Department of Naval Engineering at UTNBA. In addition, 20 students of this School participated in the works.

A fire broke out in the Almirante Irízar Icebreaker on 10 April 2007, which destroyed 80% of the vessel, so Eng. Ramis and his team had to redesign it almost completely.

“This work goes beyond a typical repair. It is actually the greatest project of the Argentine naval industry in the last 50 years,” the graduate explained.

The vessel arrived at the Tandanor shipyard in November 2008, when feasibility studies were started to determine whether it was more convenient to build an entirely new vessel or to have it repaired either abroad or in Argentina.

Once the decision was made to do the works in the country, the search for projects to carry them out started both in Argentina and abroad. In 2009, it was decided that the vessel should follow the classification established by DNV, a Norwegian society which sets very stringent standards for engineering works. This institution has more experience in this kind of work because all icebreaker shipyards are located in this area.

“The DNV is a classification society which follows the new regulations set forth by the Antarctic Treaty. At that time, the existing Engineering project was rejected and a new project was commissioned to the Spanish firm CENER to do the Engineering work. That took some preparation time and we signed the first contract in 2010, so three years went by with no works performed on the vessel, except for those carried out by the Navy to remove all the material which had been damaged as a result of the fire,” Ramis explained.

The works required an investment of 157 million dollars, 50 million of which were used to purchase equipment abroad. The rest was used to pay domestic suppliers (SMEs, contractors, among others).

An average of 220 people participated in the works per day, with peaks of 350 people, all of whom were national workers. Eight hundred and fifty tons of plate were replaced. “At first, there were 25 people in my team; it included 12 naval engineers (another three graduated during the course of the project). One young team member, Silvina Dagarzó, is now working in France on a project belonging to a group of people who saw how she worked, and thanks to the student exchange opportunities offered by the School, -said Ramis-. Now, the people who remain in the team are those working on the tests. But that original team, who received special training throughout the reconstruction process, is now being distributed among other projects.”

The transformation of the AI Icebreaker

The Icebreaker has a length of 120 meters and a breadth of 25 meters. After the repairs, which included the technological refurbishment of all the areas, the vessel increased its capacity from 270 to 313 passengers, among crew, scientists and personnel which work navigation-related issues, such as air traffic controllers for the helicopters the vessel carries and healthcare staff. The area for laboratories was expanded from 74 to 415 square meters.

During the works, a modification was made in the area devoted to the transportation of GOA, or Antarctic gasoline, “a special kind of gasoline because the fire point changes. The cargo carrying capacity went from 350 to 650 cubic meters,” Ramis added. This increase in the carrying capacity of cargo is essential in Antarctic campaigns because it allows all bases to be supplied. And in places where the weather conditions are so adverse, having a large stock of supplies makes it possible to deal with any unforeseen situations more easily. “In the past, this was very complicated because gasoline had to be carried in barrels. Today, we are capable of carrying all the fuel they need,” the project leader stated.

“Thanks to this work, the Irízar is considered one of the 10 most technologically modern icebreakers in the world. It is a multi-purpose icebreaker, capable of carrying both liquid and refrigerated loads. In addition, hard work has been done on the habitability and comfort of the passengers,” Ramis explained.


The hardships

Eng. Ramis pointed out that several difficulties were encountered during the works, which delayed the process –in addition to the change of ownership of the company in charge of the engineering of the vessel–, such as the import restrictions and the impossibility to send international bank drafts. “There were political and economic factors that delayed the works, such as the problem with the imports, of equipment that arrived in the country but was withheld for perhaps six or eight months in the CUSTOMS office, despite having been declared as equipment for the Navy. Also, on several occasions we had the money to buy certain equipment but at that moment we couldn’t send bank drafts abroad due to State policy,” he affirmed.

Another problem that delayed the works was the failure of the motor-generators. The vessel has 4 main motor-generators which generate 18000 KW, and three port generators. “The engines purchased in Germany arrived and were installed. Once everything was ready to start with the engine tests, it turned out that these engines were part of a batch which had defective turbos. As a result, we lost six months because they had to come, build new ones and replace them,” said Ramis.

In spite of this, the engineer stressed that the project was not halted: “There was a State policy because five different ministers took office and all of them approved this project. There were also changes in the company’s Board of Directors but they approved and supported the continuity of the project anyway. As a country, we can address important stuff if we have State policies,” he stated.

The Departmental Representative also stressed the impact of this work on the experience of young engineers and engineering students. “There are generations of naval engineers who did not have the possibility to get a training like the one received by the team who participated in the project, with a work of this size; it’s been years since we last had a construction or transformation project of such magnitude,” Ramis said.


The tests

The first propulsion test of the vessel was performed in April. It was taken to the water and it was verified that the engines propelled; the vessel was capable of navigating. “Installing the engines and seeing that the axis line and the engines are propelling, that it is reaching the tugboat, that the tension is decreasing, that means that the vessel is moving, it is alive. It was a very exciting moment,” the engineer recalled.

The icebreaker passed that first test with no problem. It evaluated navigation, rudder and habitability –on that occasion, it carried 194 people– and there were no problems with either the accommodation or the kitchen. The vessel has a central kitchen which keeps 5 areas at five levels, and all of them worked properly.

The second navigation was in July, when the vessel was taken to the Puerto Belgrano naval base to undergo “dry dock” inspection.

The team led by Ramis is working so that the Vessel can go on the Antarctic campaign this year: “We are gonna make it. All the Navy and Ministry of Defense authorities are certain that it is going to happen. The vessel is in operating conditions to go to Antarctica. And we also want to see it there because it makes us proud as Argentine citizens and as naval engineers,” he stressed.

 “I will always be grateful to the School, for allowing me to study, and to the company, for trusting me”

A little more than five years ago, Franco Camilo was invited to work on the Irizar Icebreaker reconstruction project in Tandanor. At that time, he was a Naval Engineering student at UTN Buenos Aires. “I joined the company thanks to a contact made by a friend, also a student at this school of engineering, who was then working on the project. At that time, I started in the planning area. Later, I gradually changed roles, always as part of the project.”

From this experience, Camilo highlighted “the human quality of the team, apart from its academic level. I had colleagues from UTN, UBA and ITBA, and working with them has been as big a satisfaction as being part of the team in charge of the Icebreaker reconstruction,” he affirmed. In this sense, the graduate pointed out that “the company always encouraged me to deal with different topics, to develop as a professional, to know and learn about other stuff.”

In addition, Camilo added: “I’m aware that this is a very special moment in history. The project itself is emblematic; it makes us proud and having participated in it will make me proud for the rest of my life, -he said-. It is unlikely for me to see another project of this kind, considering the kind of work involved and what this vessel represents. I will always be grateful, to the School, for allowing me to study, and to the company for trusting me and for forgiving many mistakes I made and supporting me during my learning process.”

The young professional, who graduated during the course of the project, stated that “today, Naval Engineering in Argentina is an applied discipline. It involves field engineering and works, aimed at those interested in great moving structures.”

Camilo is also a teaching assistant in the “Vessel Project I and II” classes, chaired by Eng. Agustín Serra. “Even before graduating, I tried to stay at the School as a teacher, mainly because I think it is a way of giving back to the School at least a little, -he said-. If you look around, public education of such quality like there is in Argentina is not common in the rest of the world. It seems a good way to give something back.”

A Naval Engineering student at UTN Buenos Aires participated in Irizar’s sea trial to Punta Alta

Julia Falcone tells us that when she started the Naval Engineering degree program in 2011 there were five women and 35 men. Born in Chivilcoy, Falcone chose engineering because she liked mathematics very much: “I was led to engineering through a career test and later, to naval engineering. I liked big structures”. Today, just about to complete the program, she does not regret it. “I never imagined such a nice University. The first time I arrived at the Campus everything was spotless and the assistance offered by the teachers was very good, they were very kind. I was also surprised by the academic quality,” she stated.

Falcone, who is now in the senior years of the program, participated in a sea trial made by the ARA Almirante Irízar Icebreaker in July. “I enrolled after receiving an invitation from the School Department. Originally, there were 9 students enrolled. After a selection process in which, as far as I know, professors of the program participated, I was chosen to participate in the sea trial, which was from Buenos Aires to Punta Alta and lasted 6 days,” she said.

Another two Naval Engineering students from UBA and ITBA also participated in the voyage. “There were a great number of civilians, students and also representatives and scientists from CONICET, INVAP and CITEFA. There were also Navy personnel. They treated us very well and the environment was very good too. They invited us to join in all the activities and I even celebrated my birthday on board the vessel,” Falcone added.

From the experience, she highlighted the fact that she visited the engine room regularly. “We learned a lot about generators. That is where the acceleration and deceleration tests were performed. We walked around the entire vessel and learned about its different systems. We watched CONICET researchers as they measured hull deformations and some vibrations. We were able to see the measurements they took and how they analyzed them, -she explained-. With the INVAP representatives, we watched how they used the thermographic camera. It was amazing, I learned a lot.

The students were also allowed to participate in the drills: “Since the vessel spent a long time in Tandanor, many crew members don’t know it and have to do trainings such as the fire fight drill and the abandon ship drill,” Falcone explained, and added that they were also allowed to be present “in the helicopter operation, in which maneuvers were made to get the helicopter in and out of the hangar, in order to determine whether hangar modifications were required and to establish a maneuver protocol.”

When they arrived in Punta Alta, Falcone stayed in Bahía Blanca, where she visited the Navy’s replenishment vessel: “we were welcomed by the commander and were allowed to walk around it, -she said-. It is a special vessel, which we study in the “Military Vessels” class, a course that is not taught in other Schools. For me, it was very good to see in person what I had studied, and that we had a vessel of that kind in Argentina.”