Bouvet Island – 3Y0J
Anyone who takes more than a passing interest in HF DX will have been across the recent DX’pediton to Bouvet Island, operating under the callsign 3Y0J.
Bouvet Island is a territory of Norway and is declared an uninhabited protected nature reserve. It is located in the South Atlantic Ocean and is regarded as the world’s most remote island. It is a volcanic island and about 93% of its surface is covered by ice and snow. There is absolutely nothing welcoming or safe about a visit to Bouvet, unless you’re a seal or penguin.
These are good reasons why Bouvet Island is Clublog’s number 2 most wanted DXCC Entity.
And so, it has been with great anticipation that a group of DX’peditioners with a Norwegian lead team announced almost two years ago they’d be undertaking to activate this highly sought after entity. As with any venture of this magnitude and profile, it has seen changes in team composition, fundraising to the tune of about USD$700,000, and a change in the boat chartered to get the team safely to and from the island.
As one would expect, any expedition to such a remote and unwelcoming part of the planet would demand only the best of resources, skills, preparation, and risk mitigation plans.
You can read more about this DX’pedition by visiting their website
and more news here:
Those who use Facebook may already have been following their trials and tribulations as the team travelled to Bouvet, about two weeks on-location, and the subsequent travel back to terra firma.
You can visit their Facebook page here
By now you’re probably thinking to yourself “this is a bloody remote and unforgiving location. I sure hope these guys know what they’re doing and don’t take any unnecessary risks”
Well, they’ve certainly been subjected to some pretty inclement weather and their plans were dialled back considerably following their first attempt to make landfall.
In summary, the team set expectations that they’d make ca 200,000 QSOs, running 12 stations with amplifiers pretty much 24*7 for their anticipated two to three-week activation. The harsh reality of Bouvet saw them activate only two stations with no amplifiers, simple antennas and making around 18,000 contacts. In the face of the adversity this was still a significant and worthy outcome.
However, there has been much adulation and “hero worshipping” on social media and it appears much of the risk has either been downplayed or ignored altogether.
Alan VK6CQ/VK0LD is a retired Antarctic professional and veteran of some highly regarded Antarctic DX’peditons. He has watched the 3Y0J team with a critical eye and genuine concern for their welfare.
In what some may regard as a contrary but important open letter to the DX community, Alan has communicated his qualified concerns and asked the questions “did the 3Y0J Team expose themselves to unnecessary risks? Were they reckless with their decision making and should the broader amateur radio community rethink how we plan and support DX’peditions to such remote and hazardous locations?”
Alan’s letter is reproduced below. It raises very important issues that need the attention of both the team leaders and the DXCC Desk. More broadly, it needs the attention of every DXer if we don’t want future DX’peditions in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
3YØJ, BOUTVETØYA. AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ARRL & WORLDWIDE DX COMMUNITY
This is not the place to comment on the success or otherwise of 3YØJ’s scaled back DX Operation at Bouvetøya nor dwell upon the ethics and morality of various Team members entering their own home callsigns into the 3YØJ log – Others can make those assessments.
However, 3YØJ’s overall operational safety, critical decision-making, approval process, landing permit status and risk management all require immediate attention and further scrutiny.
There is no questioning the 3YØJ Team’s dedication, determination and commitment to activating the second rarest DX entity in the world nor their desire to satisfy the expectations of the worldwide DX Community. However, based on the evidence on 3YØJ’s own Facebook page, it is clear to the professional eye that the Team were understating the true nature of the hazards and dangers they were faced with and were overstating their own capabilities in dealing with them.
The facts of the matter are that 3YØJ came uncomfortably close to sustaining serious injuries or even fatalities and could have easily become the focus of an international Search & Rescue mission or medical evacuation. This is the stark reality, irrespective of whether the 3YØJ Team and the DX Community wish to acknowledge or deny the fact.
OPERATIONAL SAFETY & CRITICAL DECISION-MAKING
Famous last words (almost) from 3YØJ’s own Facebook page after four Team members were marooned on the Island for four days and three nights:
“No big deal at the time because the next zodiac run would bring us our essential supplies.”
“I was first to go. I wore the waders in an attempt to keep dry.”
Now that Marama has fulfilled its contractual obligations and has safely delivered the 3YØJ Team back to civilization, the 3YØJ Team is under an obligation to explain to the ARRL DXCC desk, corporate sponsors, DX foundations and the DX Community at large why the first Zodiac landing on Cape Fie’s high energy and very hazardous black sand beach ignored Rule #1 in the Basic Polar Safety & Survival Manual, viz:
ALL required emergency survival gear plus minimum ten days rations & fuel MUST be landed on the FIRST landing in case weather and/or sea conditions suddenly deteriorate and you can’t get back to the ship! If you are unable to complete this primary task safely, then abort, return to the ship and wait for conditions to improve before making another attempt.
There is no justification whatsoever for breaking this most basic of all polar survival rules even if the weather at the time is blue skies, no wind and the sea is as flat as a pancake – your life and the lives of your colleagues may very well depend on it!
Anyone working with the Australian or other national Antarctic programs would have been fired on the spot and sent home in disgrace for such reckless disregard of basic safety protocol, so please do not resort to the “You weren’t there so you don’t know the situation” routine – it won’t wash.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
The Team must provide an honest and open assessment of how such a foolhardy and reckless decision was made, exposing some of the Team to a completely avoidable and unnecessary life-threatening scenario in the process. Why did that first Zodiac landing apparently consist of four men and only a few odds & ends of emergency survival gear, spare pair of socks etc. and little or no food or fuel?
One objective and dispassionate appraisal might be that a combination of blind DX passion and over-zealous enthusiasm coupled with sheer impatience to get off the boat and get on the air got the better of them. After over two years of PR and fundraising, 3YØJ had finally arrived at Bouvetøya and the Team were now champing at the bit to get onto the Island, on the air and calling ‘CQ DE 3YØJ’ as soon as possible no matter what the cost, including their own safety and possibly their own lives as well, so it would seem.
Bouvetøya is no place for innocent novices or polar rookies and being marooned on a very cold, windswept and wet sub-Antarctic island without proper shelter and/or adequate supplies is not a topic for plaudits, congratulations, mutual back-slapping or amusing after-dinner anecdotes. It is a very serious and imminent ‘Life or Death’ scenario, especially when sea conditions are such that a return to the vessel is impossible for an extended period and any possible helicopter evacuation is at least a week’s sailing away. Even a relatively minor deterioration in the weather in these circumstances can quickly escalate into a major life-threatening crisis.
Who made this very basic and potentially fatal error of judgment? Is it reasonable to assume that the Zodiac Driver/Polar Field Guide who was there to ensure the Team’s safety was actually the one making these crucial on-the-spot decisions? Did his safety advice fall on deaf ears and was he overruled by one or more of the other Team members in their blind eagerness to get ashore and start operating?
It behoves the Team Leadership to disclose exactly how such critical decisions were made and by whom. Was the Zodiac Driver/Polar Field Guide a paying participant or a chartered professional paid to provide safety advice? Is he the same person referred to in the Q&A session enroute to Bouvetøya as ‘….a professional film producer on board (who) is contracted (i.e., being paid) to make the video of the DX-pedition’. If so, does he carry professional indemnity insurance?
NCDXF, IDXA, GDXF, DX Engineering etc. and all other individual donors and sponsors deserve an explanation as to why 3YØJ came very, very close indeed to becoming a major disaster which could have easily involved serious injury, hypothermia, drownings or other fatalities and which without doubt would have rapidly escalated into a major international rescue effort involving SANAP’s* Agulhas II icebreaker and/or the TAAF** supply vessel, Marion Dufresne. Did the 3YØJ Leadership take out indemnity insurance to cover the enormous cost of such an eventuality?
To those who may retort or argue that the 3YØJ Team members were fully entitled to risk their own lives at Bouvetøya if they chose to do so; then what about the lives of those who may be obliged to come down to evacuate the victims of an accident or provide other assistance in perilous conditions? Are DX-peditions entitled to risk the lives of their possible rescuers as well?
Responding with an indignant ‘We knew what we were doing, there were no injuries or any disasters and we made it back OK’ is little more than vague obfuscation and is really not enough. The photos, videos and descriptive commentary on the 3YØJ Facebook page clearly demonstrate that most Team members were well out of their competency and comfort zones and at one stage at least, four of them were literally struggling for their very survival in the heavy surf at Cape Fie beach. In other words, there very nearly was a disaster.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
APPROVAL PROCESS & LANDING PERMIT STATUS
Did Norsk Polarinstitut*** (NPI) simply notify 3YØJ that their scientific monitoring site at Nyrøysa was off-limits and then merely advise them to go find somewhere else to land, or did 3YØJ receive an official permit from the Norwegian Government to land by boat and set up camp at Cape Fie? If so, then why has it never been available for public scrutiny? (there’s no copy of it on the 3YØJ official website).
The British, Australian New Zealand and French approval/permit processes for private expeditions wishing to visit their various Antarctic territories are extremely lengthy, onerous and strict for two very good reasons: Firstly, these governments have no wish for members of the public to jeopardize their own well-being in any of their southern territories. Secondly , they are somewhat reluctant to have to bear the enormous costs of a rescue mission. As a consequence, it is almost certain that Marama and its 3YØJ passengers would never have been permitted to enter any of their sub-Antarctic territorial waters, let alone land on any of their islands.
It is reasonable to assume that Norway has a similar approval/permit policy in place that is at least as strict as those of the British etc. If so, one has to wonder how official permission to land on Bouvetøya was obtained in the first instance.
The NPI Bouvetøya web page states that a permit is only required to enter Nyrøysa and that a permit is required to operate a helicopter anywhere on or around the Island. No mention is made of boat landings elsewhere on the Island; presumably because NPI considers a boat landing somewhere other than Nyrøysa to be so hazardous and difficult that nobody would ever be crazy or naïve enough to even try.
This therefore begs the question: Does the helicopter permit referred to on the 3YØJ website serve as 3YØJ’s official landing permit for Cape Fie, even though there was never any plan to use helicopters? In other words, has a loophole in the Norwegian approval/permit process been exploited in this instance in order to give credence to the 3YØJ Operation and misrepresent landing permits to key stakeholders and to the ARRL DXCC desk for DXCC accreditation purposes?
Were 3YØJ’s plans ever submitted for a full review and approval process by NPI and did the Norwegian authorities grant 3YØJ specific permission to land by boat and establish a camp at Cape Fie? If they did, then who was legally liable in the event of a mishap requiring a rescue mission? If they did not, then how can 3YØJ possibly be considered valid for DXCC purposes?
This is a critical point that requires urgent clarification for reasons obvious to any DXer.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
Attempting to scale back and get 3YØJ on the air with reduced capability after the near-miss incident of four men being stranded on the Island in on-going poor weather and rough sea conditions was a foolhardy and rash, if not downright reckless course of action. It is by sheer luck alone that this did not escalate into nine people being marooned on the Island for an extended period in very primitive and hazardous conditions indeed.
Again, who actually gave the go-ahead? The Polar Field Guide, the Team Leader(s) or the Marama skipper?
Credit where credit is due: 3YØJ succeeded where two previous and very well-organized DX-peditions had failed; they managed to actually land on the Island and get on the air, albeit with a considerably reduced RF capability. However, this scaling back can in no way be lauded as bravery or as some kind of admirable determination in the face of adversity for the ‘DX cause’. It was little more than a naïve face-saving exercise, coupled with misguided bravado and sheer recklessness and the Team ought now to be reflecting on the wisdom of their decision-making process at the time and modifying their behaviour and imminent interaction with the DX Community accordingly.
There should be an honest and open debrief involving the broader DX Community on the genuine life-threatening risks the Team actually faced at Bouvetøya and what actions must be implemented in order to eliminate, or at the least mitigate, such risks for future (if any) activations.
In scaling back 3YØJ activity, safety considerations clearly continued to take a back seat as illustrated by continued ignorance of, or flippant disregard for, safety protocols as posted on 3YØJ’s very own Facebook page.
- Sat-phone/radio calls conducted standing atop a crevassed ice cliff, on one’s own and without being roped up to a partner.
- • Posing for group selfies directly underneath the base of rotting serac**** and slowly moving ice cliffs that are particularly prone to slumping or sudden collapse without warning.
- • Striking a pose whilst standing on top of icecap randkluft+ or bergschrund + which can suddenly collapse under body weight, breaking a leg, or worse.
- • Taking photos from near cliff edges where a sudden high wind gust can easily blow someone over the cliff edge and onto the rocks below.
- • Passenger(s) ferried to Marama wearing only a life-jacket and no immersion suit.
- • Passenger almost falling into near freezing water++ between Zodiac and Marama hull and narrowly avoiding being crushed between the two by the heavy swell.
- • No second (safety) Zodiac in the water in case of man overboard or Zodiac capsize.
- • Wearing cumbersome and restrictive immersion suits whilst working cargo in heavy beach surf instead of full boating dry suits and lifejackets.
- • Wearing waders in heavy beach surf – a well-known method of committing suicide by drowning.
And so forth, most of which could have very easily resulted in serious injury or death.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
3YØJ was funded to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, in large part by the international DX Community and corporate sponsors, so it is not unreasonable to highlight these alarming issues and to ask these questions and expect answers.
In light of these circumstances, it is respectfully suggested that the ARRL has little choice other than to revoke 3YØJ DXCC accreditation on the grounds of reckless endangerment of life and limb if they wish the integrity and prestige of their DXCC Program to be maintained. Failure to do so is likely to be interpreted by many within the DX Community as ARRL complicity in encouraging and perpetuating unacceptable risk-taking in future DX-peditions to Bouvetøya and other similar hazardous locations.
In addition, future Bouvetøya DXCC accreditations must be limited to operations associated with bona fide government scientific visits only, such as 3YØC and 3YØE. DX-peditions to Bouvetøya without the safety net provided by a government supply vessel or icebreaker are demonstrably far too hazardous and should therefore no longer be allowed for DXCC credit.
Otherwise simply delete Bouvetøya from the DXCC list altogether before some aspiring DX Hero gets seriously injured or killed and the ARRL Board and DX Community end up with blood on their collective consciences. It is about time that the ARRL accepts this reality and adjusts its policies accordingly.
The same rationale applies to 3Y/Peter 1st Island, and to a lesser extent, VP8/h South Shetlands & VP8/o South Orkneys.
In any case, these three rare DXCC entities are below 60° South latitude and have therefore been subject to the Antarctic Treaty since 1960. All three should therefore have been added to Antarctica CE9 VP8 KC4 etc. and deleted as separate DXCC entities decades ago.
3YØZ and 3YØI both demonstrated at great expense just how difficult and dangerous it can be just getting to Bouvetøya, let alone landing there. 3YØJ has now spent a lot of their own and an even greater amount of Other Peoples’ money to demonstrate to the world that a private DX-pedition in general is not capable of safely establishing a secure and comfortable DX-pedition camp at Cape Fie by beach landing.
Sure, 3YØJ proved by misguided determination that it could be done if you turned a blind eye to safety protocols and could hack being very cold and very uncomfortable for several days at a time. However, if you can’t be safe and reasonably comfortable whilst sat in front of a radio, squeezing the paddle and tapping the keyboard, then why bother in the first place? Indeed, who in their right mind would ever want to pay thousands of dollars of their own money to try doing this kind of thing again?
By all means, go play radio and be a DX Hero in the Caribbean, Jan Mayen, Svalbard or wherever else where there are well-established support facilities and Search & Rescue capabilities, but private DX-peditions should stay away from those little specks of land in the vast Southern Ocean unless they have several polar veterans onboard who know exactly what they’re doing and are able to keep an eye on the sub-Antarctic novices and rookies.
Yes, I know from personal experience that these little specks of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic rock & ice can be very beguiling and tempting DX jewels indeed, but what we don’t ever want to see are the bodies of DX Martyrs floating face-down in the cold swell of the South Atlantic or the legs and feet of some unfortunate DXer sticking out from beneath several tons of collapsed ice cliff or serac on Cape Fie beach.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
Whilst in the short term, 3YØJ may be considered by some as a modest success in that a few thousand ATNOs were given out to the lucky and deserving few etc., it has unfortunately done the DX Community a far greater disservice in the long term.
Once the various sub-Antarctic government authorities learn of the four 3YØJ Team members being stranded on Bouvetøya without adequate food & shelter, they won’t be issuing any more landing permits to anyone, least of all DX-peditions. As a consequence, the DX Community may as well forget any future activations from Peter I Island, South Georgia, Kerguelen, Heard Island, Auckland Island etc. because chances are, they’re now never going to happen.
I have no desire to be a kill-joy in this wonderful hobby of ours and I take no pleasure whatsoever in being the author of this open letter, however somebody has to point out the ‘Elephant in the Room’ sooner or later. Somebody has to initiate some rational, dispassionate and objective thinking as to how the DX Community manages and supports similar hazardous activations in the future.
I have witnessed many injuries, several medical evacuations, and sad to say, a few fatalities during my varied professional career in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic. It would therefore be remiss of me and personally unconscionable if I were to just shake my head in dismay and disbelief at this latest alarming episode of ‘The Bouvet Show’ and maintain a diplomatic silence for fear of upsetting the egos of a few well-known DX celebrities or being trolled by their supporters.
Truth be known, if Bouvetøya were not on the DXCC list then the vast majority of DXers would have difficulty pointing it out on a map, let alone want to go there to set up an amateur radio DX station.
It’s time to acknowledge and accept that cashed-up, amateur hobbyists with well-intentioned but oft-times misguided enthusiasm are not the rugged Antarctic explorers or heroes of yore, nor are they a realistic representation of today’s “Ham Spirit”. The DX Community needs to address this issue as a matter of some priority and apply broader principles of responsibility and societal well-being to the world of DX and DX chasing.
In a nutshell: It’s time for the ‘Bouvet Show’ to come to an end before someone gets killed.
Finally, I am well aware that this letter is going to be controversial and liable to make me very unpopular indeed within some quarters of the worldwide DX Community.
However, I would remind everyone that I am not the ‘Elephant in the Room’ here; I am merely the person who has recognized the Elephant and pointed it out to everyone else, so it serves little purpose to make me the focus of any vituperative response or general abuse regarding the matter.
Alan Cheshire BSc MRGC GDipIT MInstP MIET MIEEE
VK6CQ VKØLD VP8PJ 9VØA, ex-VKØMM etc.
Former British Antarctic Survey Radio Officer and Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions Senior Communications Technical Officer.
Perth, Western Australia, 25 February, 2023.
3Y0J OPEN LETTER AAC 25FEB23 REV 0
* SANAP: South African National Antarctic Program
** TAAF: Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (French Southern and Antarctic Lands)
*** Norsk Polarinstitut: Norwegian Polar Institute, Oslo. The Norwegian government authority responsible for Bouvetøya
**** Serac: Large blocks of ice that have detached from the snout of a glacier or ice cliff
+ Types of empty voids found at rock/ice boundaries caused by the warmer rock melting the ice from beneath. In most cases, they are not immediately obvious to the eye from the surface.
++ Water temperatures around Bouvetøya hover around -1 to +1 Centigrade in the sub-Antarctic summer months and without an immersion suit, mean survival time in the water is measured in minutes, not hours. Sudden full-body immersion into such temperatures minus an immersion suit is a common cause of cardiac arrythmia and/or Sudden Cardiac Death at any level of fitness. Sea water freezes at around minus 2.2 Degrees Centigrade, depending on salinity.