Tuesday, January 18

Ángeles Alvariño: Eruptions, infanticides and film lies: the strangest year of the scientific ship | Science


“From the movie until now, with the volcano, it has been a very strange year,” acknowledges Captain Antonio Álvarez, at the helm of the scientific ship Ángeles Alvariño, after several days working in front of the lava flow that has reached the sea on the island of La Palma. When Álvarez talks about “the movie” he refers to the filming of the millionaire series directed by Alejandro Amenábar that has just premiered on television, The Fortune, which was held in Ferrol using the ship as a set in October 2020. In contrast, this summer they experienced much tougher moments: searching the seabed off the coast of Tenerife to find the girls murdered by their father, Tomás Gimeno. And now, without time to digest it, they capture images of the lava in the palm tree.

“It has been very intense … And on top of that it is my last year. They make fun of telling me that they purposely put a volcano on me so that I can have a farewell in style, ”says Álvarez, who retires in December. The Alvariño is these days studying the effect of the eruption of La Palma to give the relief to its twin, the Ramón Margalef, which was the first to attend the volcanic emergency. Interestingly, just ten years ago, the Margalef It was released after its launch, going to El Hierro, another Canary Island, to monitor another eruption, this time underwater. The two vessels are the best tool of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO-CSIC) for the investigation of the seas.

But sometimes emergencies that require eyes and hands arise under the sea, outside of scheduled investigations. As the head of the Oceanographic fleet, Pablo Carrera, points out: “We are a public service and we understand what is a priority. When they ask you for something like that, you don’t beat around the bush, you just look at when you can have it ready. ” “Something like that”, in Carrera’s words, is an unexpected volcano or the tragic search for the corpses of two little girls in the seabed, when everything indicated that their father had sunk them in the Atlantic after killing them.

The 'Alvariño' in full search work on the coast of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in his search for the girls Anna and Olivia.
The ‘Alvariño’ in full search work on the coast of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in his search for the girls Anna and Olivia.MARINE TRAFFIC (Europa Press)

That search, carried out in June of this year, took the ship and its instruments to the limit, but also the crew, always busy on the flooded green deck. “That broke us, people were touched: we have quite a hard shell, but we also have children and it is not easy,” admits Captain Álvarez. The airship submarine Liropus 2000 found the body of Olivia, the older sister, at a depth of 1,000 meters.

It was a demonstration of the capabilities of this submersible robot (ROV), which cost a million and a half eleven years ago and that was seriously damaged in that effort, after mapping an area of ​​250 km² and filming almost 400 hours in the dives. A job at these depths stresses any material, both electronics and mechanics, says Carrera, and by doubling shifts to work 24 hours a day, “we knew it was going to fail because maintenance was lacking.” The Institute warned in July: “Its condition has begun to pose a risk to navigability, which could mean its loss.”

“Of course we wanted to collaborate with the court and society, but it cannot work sine die. It was decided to do the best possible search in the shortest time possible ”, summarizes Carrera. After a month of recognition and with battered resources, the magistrate considered “impossible” to find the missing bodies and allowed to go to the Alvariño, It cost 20 million and will turn 10 in February. Olivia’s discovery, in circumstances that showed cruel premeditation, served at least to clarify what had happened: vicarious violence. “If they tell us ‘this has to be done’, we do our best,” concludes the fleet manager.

Work with the ROV to recover the remains of 'La Mercedes' in 2015.
Work with the ROV to recover the remains of ‘La Mercedes’ in 2015.Ministry of Culture and Sports

Shortly after that difficult mission, in August, another film-worthy capture awaited the Ángeles Alvariño. It was when he approached the Galician coast to help locate the narco sailboat Benirras, sunk in full confinement by the covid pandemic by its crew, according to published the Diario de Pontevedra.

These kinds of unexpected missions are “exceptional,” explains Carrera, and that’s why this year has been so peculiar. The normal thing in the IEO fleet is to have a very tight schedule of work around the peninsula and the Canarian archipelago. Some “gray”, but transcendental parcels: Spain’s commitments to the EU for the collection of data for the common fisheries policy: “They are delicate campaigns because they have a lot of economic and social impact; fishermen from Spain and from other countries depend on these data ”. If he Margalef I would not have been watching the arrival of the lava to the sea in front of Puerto Naos, I would have been observing the amount of sardines that we will be able to share with the Portuguese sailors. Before going to La Palma, the Alvariño he was in the Bay of Biscay studying how many anchovy babies are born and how many there will be next year, to be shared with the French.

The good and the bad

In the first scene of the Amenábar series, the characteristic yellow visor of these two twin ships of 46 meters in length. The Alvariño It was a television set for a few days, in exchange for the money paid by the producer (the total budget for the series is 18 million), in a confidential contract that Carrera cannot reveal. “He paid the fees religiously and we all agreed well,” he says. The team of The Fortune it was adapted to the technical stop that the ship had planned in Ferrol. “It was the first campaign of the year that the Liropus was going to be used, so they took advantage of a test dive that we would have done anyway; if they have paid for it on top of that, then better ”, jokes Carrera.

So when the spectators of the series attend the boarding of the ship off the coast of Algeciras, “we were actually moored in the port of Ferrol,” says Captain Álvarez. Although in real life they are no strangers to these confrontations, as when the Gibraltarian patrol boats harassed their crew a few years ago. The fiction, based on a comic by Paco Roca, reinterprets the real story of how a company robatesoros took the spoils of The Mercedes, a gold-laden ship sunk by England.

The crew of the 'Ángeles Alvariño' maneuvers with the airship submarine Liropus 2000, with the shark sticker that was put on it during the filming of Amenábar.
The crew of the ‘Ángeles Alvariño’ maneuvers with the airship submarine Liropus 2000, with the shark sticker that was put on it during the filming of Amenábar.IEO

In the series, the Alvariño It is the ship that this company uses (Atlantis, Odyssey in the real story) to steal the sunken coins and a Navy frigate goes to the place where it sank The Fortune (The Mercedes, actually) to search for remains of the wreck, the key to judicially prove the looting. But if we look at the facts there is a very showy script twist, as Álvarez explains: “Actually, they commissioned us to do the Odyssey; It’s not like the one in the movie, that the Navy is going ”. “We went to check if it was true that those were the coordinates and to our surprise, we found many valuable things that they had left, like a gold bowl,” he recalls. That is to say, that Amenábar turns into the bad al Alvariño, the ship that was actually the good, and erase its true role from history. “And there was no trace of skulls, no wood, no ship, just a few cannons stuck in the mud, “adds Álvarez.

The Liropus still maintains the shark-shaped sticker that the film crew placed on the robot to cover the IEO logo. A device that has returned to try their benefits these days. As soon as you arrive at La Palma showed underwater life next to the fajana, buried by volcanic ash. And while the scientific crew received on deck to the Minister of Science, Diana Morant, the geologists they helped with the ROV to recover an anchor that the tanker that supplies water to the banana plantations had lost during a maneuver.

“We are used to doing things on the fly, your plans change and you adapt,” responds naturally the captain of the Ángeles Alvariño, whose name pays homage to the Galician pioneer of oceanography. “Now we are again very uncertain about the people who are having a hard time [en La Palma]. We have the ship all covered in ash, pending the lava in case we have to separate, working uncomfortably on deck with masks. It seems that we have a monotonous plan and something always comes up, “sums up Álvarez.

“The most difficult year?”, Asks Carrera, who this year debuted his duties as fleet manager. “If they had shown me the fine print, I would have rethought it,” he jokes. “It has been a complex year, a year of challenges to which the pandemic and its restrictions are added. But I remember 2011, when my predecessor José Ignacio Díaz, just launched the Margalef, had to take it to El Hierro in record time and with a lot of pressure. Maybe that was more difficult, they told him: ‘The pretty girl just released and you take her to hell’, by the volcano ”. A decade later, a new inferno releases its lava into the Canarian seas and, once again, the yellow visor appears along the coast to watch over it.

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