What is the purpose of the mission of the Akademik Alexandre Karpinski, Russian icebreaker arrived Saturday in Cape Town, South Africa?

According to Russian media, the vessel is en route to the South Pole as part of a scientific mission launched in late 2022, and belongs to the Polar Marine Geosurvey Expedition, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned mineral exploration company RosGeo.

Enough to fear that “exploitation will be the next step” after the exploration of the riches of the basement, warns the spokesperson for the NGO Extinction Rebellion Jacqui Tooke.

A small group of environmental activists gathered at the port of Cape Town on Sunday, chanting: "No to fossil fuels, hands off Antarctica, no to war".

The exploitation of the subsoil (minerals, gas, oil) is prohibited in Antarctica by the Madrid Protocol of 1991 with, in particular, measures for the protection of its flora and fauna, the prevention of marine pollution, the tourism control and waste management.

RosGeo, for its part, has denied wanting to explore southern resources: RosGeo's activities "on the Antarctic continent and in the neighboring seas are of an exclusively scientific nature", a spokesperson told the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Saturday.

Claiming that the icebreaker had used Cape Town “as a launching pad for Antarctic missions for over 20 years”, Greenpeace activist Elaine Nills said that “South Africa (had) a moral duty (…) not to allow this kind of activity in a very sensitive area from an ecological point of view”.

South Africa, criticized for its "neutral" position and its refusal to condemn Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine, took a new step last week by calling itself a "friend" of Russia.

The icebreaker arrived in South Africa just after a visit to the country by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Pretoria also announced that it would host joint maritime exercises with Russia and China from February 17 to 27.


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