Royal Navy’s new ice-breaker deploys to Antarctica


The Royal Navy’s new ice patrol vessel, HMS Protector, has set sail on a seven month deployment surveying and patrolling the frozen continent of Antarctica.

She left Portsmouth on November 28. The 5,000-tonne ice-breaking ship completed an intensive period of sea trials and training prior to deploying to the Antarctic Peninsula.

HMS Protector will arrive in Antarctica at the beginning of the austral summer (which runs from November to March) and will conduct three work periods in the ice.

She will use her multibeam echo sounder and deploy her survey motorboat to provide cutting-edge hydrographic charting and imagery of the Antarctic region for the UK Hydrographic Office, which provides 80 per cent of the world’s nautical charts.

The ship will also assist with the resupply of British Antarctic Survey stations in the region.

HMS Protector is being leased from Norwegian company GC Rieber Shipping for three years as an interim replacement for HMS Endurance which suffered flood damage when she was operating in the South Atlantic in 2008.

Built as the Norwegian vessel MV Polarbjorn (Polar Bear) in 2001 and chartered to the Royal Navy since April this year, HMS Protector was commissioned into the Navy on June 23 on the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the Antarctic Treaty and the centenary year of Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. Previously, she operated under charter as a polar research and subsea support vessel.

Polarbjorn has accommodation for 100. Large cargo holds and open deck areas provide storage capacity for remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and related equipment. A 50-ton crane and 25-ton stern A-frame allow equipment to be deployed over the side and over the stern.

Before being chartered to the Royal Navy, Polarbjorn underwent a ten-day refit in Odense, Denmark. The helipad, originally above her bridge, was repositioned over the stern. Other changes included the installation of an echo sounder survey system, an overhaul of the main engines and gearboxes and the addition of naval insignia.

Captain Peter Sparkes, Commanding Officer of HMS Protector, said that, “we are now operationally ready to deploy to the South Atlantic. My ship’s company have worked tirelessly in recent months to regenerate the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship capability.
“Working doggedly as a team we have achieved all that has been asked of us and to a very demanding timeline. I could not be more proud of the men and women under my command. We are now ready in all respects to face the rigours of seven months in the extremely hostile environment of Antarctica.”