Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector has sailed to within 1,050 kilometres of the North Pole during her first patrol of the Arctic. Only the RN’s nuclear submarines surfacing in the ice have got closer.
The ship is conducting hydrographic surveys and collecting environmental data while acclimatising to Polar conditions following a major refit at UK Docks Ltd on Teesside. Despite completing a maintenance period in the summer of 2019, the ship suffered a major propulsion defect in the Caribbean during September 2019 while on her way to start a new season in Antarctica. The decision was taken to bring the ship back to the UK for a complete overhaul which involved dry docking and removing the tail shaft. The ship arrived in Middlesbrough in March 2020 and completed refit in January 2021. She passed Operational Sea Training earlier this month and headed to Norway.
After testing the strength of her engines using a specialist bollard pull facility in Flekkefjord, she began icebreaking in the Fram Strait, between Greenland and the Norwegian island chain of Svalbard. Ice Ramming Trials were conducted to ascertain the correct ‘Polar Code’ rating post-refit in various depths and types of ice, monitored by scientists, engineers and advisors including from the MoD and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Protector is fitted with a Multi-Beam Echo Sounder (MBES) for hydrographic work and conducted surveys of the sea bed – between 2,000 and 3,000 metres deep in the Fram Strait. She also collected oceanographic data about the North Atlantic currents, observed marine mammals, and helped the BAS with its work studying the polar ice cap. The ship eventually reached her most northerly position of 80°41.5 North in the Greenland Sea.
The ship arrived in Reykjavik, today, Iceland having recently joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), drawn from nine northern European nations committed to global security. Protector will return to her home in Devonport, ahead of deploying to Antarctica in the autumn, likely to be based for several years in the South Atlantic.
All photos: LPhot Belinda Alker