HMS Protector cuts through Antarctic ice

HMS Pro­tec­tor, the Roy­al Navy’s ice patrol ship, has cut through the ice floes of Antarc­ti­ca for the first time.

HMS Protector’s jour­ney through the Lemaire Chan­nel, sit­u­at­ed along the Antarc­tic Penin­su­la, where the ship broke through ice for the first time [Pic­ture: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The ship arrived in Antarc­ti­ca for the first time two weeks ago after her long sail south from Portsmouth and is fol­low­ing up impor­tant sur­vey work for ship­ping in the region with vis­its to remote research bases locked in the frozen con­ti­nent.

At Decep­tion Island, a stun­ning water-filled vol­canic caldera that is one of just two in the world, Pro­tec­tor sent her small­er sur­vey boat James Caird IV with multi­beam echo sounder equip­ment to sur­vey the area known as ‘Neptune’s Bel­lows’.

It was here that in 2007 the cruise ship MV Nord­kapp ran aground and was assist­ed by the pre­vi­ous ice patrol ship HMS Endurance.

Lead­ing Sea­man Chris Smith, the boat’s coxswain, said:

“Work­ing on the Neptune’s Bel­lows sur­vey was a high­ly sat­is­fy­ing job pro­fes­sion­al­ly; being part of a team that worked on some­thing this impor­tant to the safe­ty of nav­i­ga­tion makes all the hard work of being away from my fam­i­ly worth­while.”

A team of four spent two nights at an aban­doned Admi­ral­ty base, brav­ing gale-force winds with 55-knot (100km/h) gusts to both col­lect infor­ma­tion used for chart-mak­ing and satel­lite-posi­tion­ing and to record the tidal range.

The team took pre­cise GPS mea­sure­ments on land to make sure the tide gauge was lev­el. The infor­ma­tion will allow the UK Hydro­graph­ic Office in Taunton to pro­duce accu­rate charts for ships tran­sit­ing the area.

Lieu­tenant Gra­ham Blenk­in­sop, the offi­cer in charge of the sur­vey boat, said:

“The oppor­tu­ni­ty to sur­vey Neptune’s Bel­lows was fan­tas­tic; being able to use the Roy­al Navy’s most advanced sur­vey motor boat and in such a stun­ning area.

“It was even more sat­is­fy­ing to know that the work we were doing will have a direct impact on the safe­ty of the many cruise ships and research ves­sels that pass through Neptune’s Bel­lows and to know that we have done our part to make such an iso­lat­ed part of the world safer for the ships and their crews.”

Lat­er, some of the crew of HMS Pro­tec­tor vis­it­ed the Span­ish Antarc­tic sta­tion Gabriel de Castil­la, meet­ing base com­man­der Major Anto­nio Casals Abra­ham and his team, who greet­ed them with a British Union Flag fly­ing next to the Span­ish flag on the beach.

After a tour, Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Andy Storey, Oper­a­tions Offi­cer on Pro­tec­tor, pre­sent­ed a ship’s crest to the base com­man­der and invit­ed him to din­ner with Cap­tain Peter Sparkes, Protector’s Com­mand­ing Offi­cer, and the Com­mand­ing Offi­cer of the Span­ish Antarc­tic patrol ship SPS Las Pal­mas.

It was in the Lemaire Chan­nel that HMS Pro­tec­tor first broke the ice to mark her role as the Roy­al Navy’s ice patrol ship. It took four hours to trav­el through the pas­sage, with the ice increas­ing steadi­ly, and seals and pen­guins on the ice floes.

Pro­tec­tor then moved on to Port Lock­roy, a his­toric British base manned by the UK Antarc­tic Her­itage Trust. She brought vital stock, loaded in Portsmouth, to resup­ply the base, as well as its Post Office and small shop.

The ship’s work boat Ter­ra Nova deliv­ered the sup­plies and then trans­ferred build­ing waste back to Pro­tec­tor to fol­low Antarc­tic Treaty and envi­ron­men­tal pro­to­cols.

The ship’s com­pa­ny vis­it­ed the muse­um at Port Lock­roy where liv­ing con­di­tions from the 1940s and 1950s are pre­served with hand­writ­ten notes and oth­er mem­o­ra­bil­ia. Lieu­tenant Simon Lock­ley dis­cov­ered that his name­sake Sub-Lieu­tenant Lock­ley was one of the first base com­man­ders there 60 years ago.

Mean­while, for three days, Pro­tec­tor deployed her cold weath­er experts, the Roy­al Marines, to com­plete their cold weath­er train­ing.

Colour Sergeant Mick Cowe, a Moun­tain Leader, said:

“The envi­ron­ment in Antarc­ti­ca offers a unique chal­lenge. We are here to pro­vide the appro­pri­ate lev­el of exper­tise to the ship’s com­pa­ny and these few days ashore have helped to con­sol­i­date our per­ish­able skill set.”

HMS Pro­tec­tor has since recov­ered sci­en­tists from the British Antarc­tic Sur­vey who were dropped off to inves­ti­gate glob­al warm­ing. Her patrol con­tin­ues.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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