W. Alejandro Sanchez
Peru This Week
July 20, 2015
Originally published: http://www.peruthisweek.com/blogs-the-pride-of-the-peruvian-navy-the-bap-union-107058
The construction of the BAP Unión is well underway, and, upon completion, it will be the largest sail vessel in Latin America and will train Peruvian sailors for generations. The contract for the Unión was awarded to a Peruvian state-run shipyard, the Servicios Industriales de la Marina, meaning that the vessel will be manufactured in Peru for the use of the Peruvian Navy.
With an estimated $60-70 million USD price tag, the Unión will be 115 meters long, weigh approximately 3,500 tons, and have four masts. The vessel, which is expected to go as fast as 12 knots, will have a crew of around 100 personnel but will have room to accommodate up to an additional 160. Given the budget and the ambitiousness of the project, it is no surprise that the senior members of the Peruvian government and military have gone to SIMA’s shipyard to personally inspect the ship’s construction. Just over the past year, Peru’s Defense Minister, the commander of the Peruvian Navy, and even President Ollanta Humala himself have visited the SIMA shipyard in Callao.
It seems that everything is on schedule regarding the Unión, as it was launched this past December 2014 in a ceremony with President Humala in attendance. The vessel will be officially commissioned by the end of this year. A May 2014 issue of the Peruvian Navy’s magazine Monitor best exemplifies the pride that this branch of the South American nation’s military feels regarding the Unión. The opening paragraph of an article about the ship’s construction explains how the new vessel can be compared to those in which Admiral Miguel Grau himself, the hero of the Peruvian Navy, learned about sailing in the 19th century. The construction of the Unión is not simply an industrial challenge for SIMA or part of the Navy’s aim to reinvigorate its inventory, this new ship is also meant to teach future Peruvian sailors how their ancestors navigated the seas and help them connect with the country’s ultimate naval hero.
During the 2014 ceremony, President Humala remarked how “it is important [to note that] we did not buy [the Unión]. We made it here. In Peru we have the technology for maritime construction of this type of vessels.” This is an important fact to keep in mind since, as previously mentioned, the Unión is being constructed by the Peruvian shipyards SIMA. In recent years, SIMA has carried out some important manufacturing projects for the Peruvian Navy and is also (slowly) expanding into the competitive international shipbuilding- market. Among its recent projects is the construction of two multipurpose ships as well as an auxiliary towing vessel. Besides its main facilities in Callao, SIMAalso has shipyards in Chimbote (north of Lima) and in Iquitos (in the Peruvian Amazon).
Moreover, at the international level, an important milestone was reached in April 2014 when former Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano (now the President of the Council of Ministers) went to Panama and met with his then Central American counterpart, José Raúl Mulino. The two signed a cooperation agreement through which SIMA will open a shipyard in Panama. This shipyard will provide technical expertise, including repairs, to vessels that are travelling through the Panama Canal. SIMA-Panama relations are nothing novel, as the Peruvian shipyard constructed two support boats for the Panama Canal Authority in 2011. More recent information regarding the status of the SIMA shipyard in Panama is unavailable but hopefully this agreement will ultimately materialize.
The construction of the Unión and SIMA’s other projects demonstrate the growing capabilities of Peru’s shipbuilding industry. Certainly, SIMA is in no capacity to build a complex vessel like a carrier, but its current projects highlight how the Peruvian state-run shipyard is making a name for itself and could become an important supplier in the international shipbuilding industry in the near future. As for the BAP Unión, when it is completed and commissioned, it will be a sail vessel that would make Admiral Grau himself proud.