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New Milestone in Cartagena’s Venerable Naval History

Photos supplied by Spanish Defence Ministry

Cartagena has played a significant historical role in Spain for more than two millennia. The city was founded around 227 BC by military leader, politician and Iberian governor Hasdrubal the Fair, and subsequently became a prominent Roman Empire outpost and later a key city during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Cartagena’s strategic importance over the centuries has also been linked to its highly coveted defensive port – still one of the most important in the western Mediterranean area. The city has been the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Mediterranean maritime department since the 18th century, and today it is home to the country’s largest naval shipyard.

Now Cartagena, which in recent decades has also become a popular tourist resort, for both national and international visitors, has added a new chapter to its venerable history.

This month, Princess Leonor of Asturias – elder daughter of King Felipe VI and heir to the Spanish throne – officially christened the first submarine completely designed and built in Spain.

In addition to the ceremony for the S-81 “Isaac Peral” by Navantia submarine, the event also commemorated the centenary of the launch of the first submarine constructed at the Cartagena shipyard, the B-1. Of a total of 39 submarines that have served or still serve in the submarine arm of the Spanish Navy – during its 106-year history – 27 have set sail from Cartagena.

Officially presiding over the ceremonial events, together with the royal family, minister for defence Margarita Robles said, “In such an important year for the Spanish Navy, as we celebrate the fifth centenary of the first circumnavigation of the globe, this is another encouraging milestone that demonstrates everything that Spain is capable of and that Spain sets an example for the world.”

Robles expressed her gratitude for the efforts of all those involved in building “this masterpiece”, including the workers at Navantia, the Spanish Navy and its crew of submariners, and the people of Cartagena.

Chief of the Navy Staff Admiral General Antonio Martorell said he shared that pride and satisfaction on witnessing the fruit of so many years of hard work, and recognised the “spirit of sacrifice and selflessness shown by Spanish submariners, marines, men and women represented here today by the first crew of the S-81 who serve Spain from the deep”.

State-of-the-Art Submarine Technology

An official statement from the Spanish government and ministry of defence noted that the S-80s will be the most advanced conventional (non-nuclear) submarines in the world. They extend over 80.8 metres in length, and have a diameter of 7.3 metres and an immersion displacement of approximately 3,000 tonnes.

When launched, the submarine will undergo post-testing activities and sea trials that include surface navigation and immersion to its maximum depth. The first voyage is scheduled for the start of 2022 and the S-81 will be formally delivered to the Spanish Navy one year later.

Born in Cartagena in 1851, Isaac Peral was an engineer who joined the Spanish Navy in 1866 and designed and developed the first successful full electric battery-powered submarine, the Peral, launched in 1888.

Submersibles planned for future construction will be named after other pioneers of submarine navigation: the S-82 “Narciso Monturiol” in 2024; S-83 “Cosme García” in 2026; and S-84 “Mateo García de los Reyes” in 2028.

The design of these submarines is described as being more similar to that of a spacecraft than a surface ship. They are designed to operate autonomously and stealthily for long periods of time thanks to a revolutionary air-independent propulsion system that enables electricity to be generated and stored.

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