updated 3/1/2008 3:51:47 PM ET 2008-03-01T20:51:47

Venezuelan scientists and military officers reached the Antarctica after a 15-day trip, opening the South American nation's first expedition to the frozen continent, officials said Saturday.

The Venezuelans made the trip on an Uruguayan naval research ship, reflecting warm ties between the nations' leftist governments. President Tabare Vazquez has been criticized by his opponents for allowing Venezuelans aboard the Uruguayan vessel Oyarvide.

The ship concluded a voyage of 2,300 miles on Friday but high winds and choppy seas prevented the full delegation from immediately disembarking at Uruguay's General Artigas Antarctic base, said Uruguayan army Maj. Juan Nunez.

"The Oyarvide arrived late Friday but only the mission chief, Uruguayan Navy Capt. Ricardo Young, and a Venezuelan naval official could disembark," he told The Associated Press, adding the rest would reach the base by motorized rubber rafts once weather improved.

Uruguay's congress, dominated by the president's supporters, approved the mission and Vazquez's aides called the trip a gesture of friendship.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington, called the 11 scientists and five naval officers "pioneers" when he announced the 45-day expedition last month. Chavez hopes to establish a research station on the continent.

The scientists will study a range of subjects, including the effects of climate change in Antarctica.

Antarctica, governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, is designated a natural scientific reserve. Some 28 nations operate research stations on the continent and nearby islands, but no single nation controls any part of the territory.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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