BRASILIA (Reuters) - A fire broke out at Brazil’s research station in Antarctica on Saturday, leaving two navy personnel missing and forcing the evacuation by helicopter of roughly 40 other people.
A third navy member was injured but stable after the fire, which broke out in a building housing power generators at the Comandante Ferraz base, the navy said in a statement. It said those evacuated had been flown to Chile’s Antarctica station.
Local newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo, quoting scientists stationed at the base, said two military personnel had been killed in the blaze. A navy spokesperson contacted by Reuters declined further comment.
Several South American countries have bases in Antarctica where they carry out scientific research, despite concerns among environmentalists over the risks of human activity on the planet’s least populated and most pristine continent. Brazil has had a base in Antarctica since 1984.
The navy statement named the missing as Sub-Officer Carlos Alberto Vieira Figueiredo and First Sergeant Roberto Lopes dos Santos. Their families were informed and were being offered support by the navy, it said.
The group evacuated from the base would be flown to Punta Arenas in Chile by the Argentinian Air Force, the Brazilian Navy statement said, and from there back to Brazil in a Brazilian Air Force plane.
The head of the base and a handful of military personnel who had stayed behind to combat the blaze later had to be evacuated to the Chilean base due to bad weather, but would return when it improved to evaluate the damage, the navy said.
Separately on Saturday, Estado de Sao Paulo reported that a barge shuttling diesel to the base had sunk in a storm in December, although there were no casualties and no evidence of environmental damage. The newspaper alleged the government tried to conceal the incident while attempting to recover the vessel.
The paper said the barge sank to a depth of 40 meters (131 feet) after capsizing while being towed to shore with its cargo of 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of diesel, equivalent to 63 barrels.
No one was aboard the barge when it sank and so far none of the fuel has leaked, the paper said. It did not reveal how it obtained the information. The paper said the incident was deliberately being kept confidential by the four ministries belonging to its Antarctica mission known as Proantar.
A navy press officer was unable to immediately confirm or deny the report. A spokesperson at the presidency said it was up to individual ministries to comment on the issue. The Defense Ministry was unable to immediately respond to inquiries.
The barge is about 900 meters (984 yards) from the shore where Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Antarctica Station is located.
A Brazilian naval rescue ship designed to recover submarines and a separate ship chartered by Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobras will reach the site next week to attempt to haul the barge to the surface, the paper said.
It said the fuel was a special non-coagulating diesel produced by Petrobras for freezing Antarctic conditions. The paper said images from a robotic submarine camera showed no signs of leakage from the double-skinned barge.
Reporting by Peter Murphy; Additional reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Editing by Eric Beech