Navy’s icebreaker returns to the water ahead of Antarctic mission

Back in the water after five months high and dry is the UK’s sole ice patrol ship, gearing up for a return to the ice after two years away.

HMS Protector is now floating on the waters of the Tees after emerging from dry dock following extensive work on her hull since May.

She is on track to head to the frozen continent for the Antarctic Summer, supporting the work of British and international scientists studying the unique Antarctic environment and conducting hydrographic surveys to chart this pristine and frozen wilderness.

The revamp in Middlesbrough has been conducted by UK Docks working side-by-side with Protector’s crew.

After grit blasting in dry dock, five square kilometres of specialised paint have been painstakingly applied to the hull – by hand, by both contractors and the ship’s company.

The propeller shaft was removed, sent to Denmark for inspection, then re-installed. All the engines and generators have been refurbished and the quarterdeck rebuilt to make more space. Her 60-ton crane, the largest afloat in the Royal Navy, has been removed and refurbished.

There’s now considerably more space aboard for containers and supplies – particularly important on this deployment; Protector will take vital building materials and fuel to help in the modernisation of the British science station at Rothera, located toward the centre of the 17 million square kilometres of the British Antarctic Territory.

The British Antarctic Survey have reduced their footprint in the region because of Covid, so we’ll be delivering a lot of their stores and supplies for them to help them through the winter – far more so than on previous deployments.

Lieutenant Commander Chris Gardiner, Protector’s Logistics Officer

Extra BAS engineers will join the icebreaker on her voyage south, as will an artist from the Scott Polar Research Institute. And once in the southern hemisphere, officers from our South American friends will clamber aboard to visit some of the remote polar outstations.

Protector will also conduct her own scientific and survey work, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle in Antarctica for the first time to gather data, and a new, British-made aerial drone to scout ahead searching for safe routes among the sea ice.

In addition, many of Protector’s crew will have changed since she last visited the Antarctic, so this deployment will be a special experience for the 90-strong ship’s company – although there are some polar veterans and Royal Marine cold weather survival specialists and Royal Navy divers embark to provide extra capability.

“This is going to be a new and fantastic experience – and definitely one to tick off the bucket list,” Lt Cdr Gardiner added.

“After all the hard work everyone has put in over the past eight months, we’re keen to get out there, do what we’re trained for and return HMS Protector to her rightful domain.”

The Captain, Michael Wood, added: “I am proud of this unique ship. Her incredible people, together with the company, worked through lockdown without interruption and despite frequent challenges to restore Protector to the Fleet. For many, our journey to Antarctica and back promises the adventure of a lifetime.”

The ship will be on Teesside until late October completing her overhaul – including re-installing her flight deck and crane – before conducting pre-deployment training in home waters.