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Protector sails on her debut voyage to the ice

HMS Protector deploys to Antarctica

29/11/2011

New Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector has sailed from Portsmouth on her maiden deployment: an eight-month stint surveying the waters around the frozen continent ­– and beyond. Protector, on loan to the Royal Navy for three years, has spent the majority of 2011 undergoing conversion and training ready for her debut off the Antarctic Peninsula.

Protector's a fantastic ship with a fantastic ship's company who have worked extremely hard to allow us to go on deployment.
Captain Peter Sparkes, Commanding Officer of HMS Protector

In the deepening gloom of a late November day, the newest ship in the Royal Navy sailed on her maiden deployment.

HMS Protector left Portsmouth Harbour to a ripple of camera flashes on the Round Tower as dusk descended on the Solent.

It will be eight months before the new Antarctic patrol ship passes the gateway to Portsmouth once again, having completed three lengthy spells surveying the waters of the frozen continent.

The distinctive red and white survey ship has been loaned to the Royal Navy to plug the gap left by the UK's longstanding Antarctic patroller, HMS Endurance, which has been out of action since the end of 2008.

For the next three years Protector will work off the Antarctic Peninsula, supporting the work of British scientists, flying the flag for the UK and gathering data on waters poorly or inadequately charted hitherto.

During her three stints around the ice this austral summer - the first spell begins in January, the last as autumn begins to take hold of the Southern Hemisphere - Protector will survey Deception Island, a popular destination for polar cruise ships, Elephant Island, and lesser-well-known sites such as Dundee and Detaille Islands and Andvord Bay.

There is an 18-strong team of hydrographers and surveyors to conduct this work, assisted by a state-of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder which collects 132 readings per second on its sweeps and which, during a recent survey of the River Dart, could pick out the marks on the seabed left by anchors dragging along.

Of the 88 men and women drafted to Protector, just over 50 are taking her south initially; crew rotation, with around one third of the ship's company in the UK at any one time will allow the survey vessel to operate for up to 330 days a year.

Once her work around Antarctic is done, she can be committed elsewhere to conduct survey work.

Since getting their hands on the ship, previously the Polarbjorn, an oil rig support vessel, back in the spring, sailors have toiled to turn a civilian vessel into a naval one.

Her first Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes said although 90 per cent of Protector had been left intact, fitting that final ten per cent of Royal Navy equipment - such as communications, the WECDIS electronic chart kit, and the specialist surveying equipment ­ has been extremely demanding.

"Protector's a fantastic ship with a fantastic ship's company who have worked extremely hard to allow us to go on deployment,"

he added.

"They've had to transform her into a warship in a few months and it's been a big ask, but for most of us this is the chance of a lifetime.

"This is a great ship which will serve us very well down in the ice."

AB(HM) Mike Beevers has spent the last two austral summers amid the ice with HMS Scott.

Going south with Protector, he says, is a "completely different experience".

He continued:

"It has been challenging getting her ready for this deployment, but it should be worth it.

"We've been working since April for this moment so there's a sense of excitement aboard.

"The sights on the ice are incredible, amazing.

It's a different world from anywhere else. Not much of the sea has been charted and on Scott last year it was fascinating to find a volcano like Deception Island but under water."

As well as the survey equipment fitted to Protector herself, she carries a small motor launch bristling with sensors so shallower waters can be charted.

Her hold carries three Royal Marines BV tracked vehicles and several quad bikes with trailers so equipment and supplies can be delivered to British Antarctic Survey bases in the region.

A small detachment of green berets, led by a cold warfare specialist to advise the ship's company on the dangers of such an extreme environment, will join Protector once she reaches the South Atlantic.

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