Ice ship HMS Protector back at sea after £14m revamp

The Royal Navy’s only ice patrol ship is back at sea after a £14m ten-month revamp to enhance her ability to work in Antarctica.

HMS Protector left Teesside after the biggest and longest overhaul during her ten-year career under the White Ensign.

The work carried out by UK Docks and the ship’s company since last March will mean the ship – unique in the Royal Navy’s Fleet – is better at breaking ice, can carry more equipment and supplies to support British and international scientists researching the frozen continent, and has improved facilities for the crew.

The ship spent five months out of the water and was originally due to emerge from refit in the autumn, before heading south to update maritime charts of Antarctic waters using her hi-tech suite of sensors, as well as conducting scientific research alongside civilian experts.

The revamp proved to be more comprehensive and demanding than originally anticipated – particularly as it’s been carried out entirely during the pandemic – which means the ship sailed three months later than planned.

But the Protector which finally departed Teesside at the end of last week is a ship far better suited to serving on the edge of the frozen wasteland of the Antarctic.

In 21 years in the Royal Navy, the Plymouth-based survey vessel’s 1st Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Robin Nash, said the work carried out on Protector had been “the most complex, demanding, and hopefully transformative project I have been a part of”.

The pandemic – and the rules and limitations it prompted – “added layers of complication that could not possibly have been anticipated” from working routines and habits, to enforced medical protection for everyone involved plus “a level of ingenuity and pragmatism from the ship’s company that has been truly humbling.”

I’ve been impressed by the scale, technical nature and improvements to the engineering systems and I’m looking forward to working with them and enhancing our skills

Engineering Technician Craig Armstrong

Engineering Technician Craig Armstrong, aged 25, from Brixham added: “I’ve been impressed by the scale, technical nature and improvements to the engineering systems and I’m looking forward to working with them and enhancing our skills.”

As well as the usual refit work overhauling engines, generators, re-covering the distinctive red/white hull with specialised paint by hand and removing the propeller shaft for inspection in Denmark before reinstalling it – the revamp has created better cargo space, a new quarter deck structure with a naval stores complex, workshop to maintain the upgraded small boats and launches Protector carries, and there’s a new gym packed with £50,000 of the latest fitness gear for the sailors and Royal Marines.

The extra weight improves the ship’s trim which makes her better able to break ice when she needs to.

“The past ten months on Teesside have transformed HMS Protector into a Polar Class vessel, ready for operations in the ice,” said Commanding Officer Captain Michael Wood.

“The ship has undergone wholesale modernisation, exceptional amounts of structural rework, and significant capability enhancement as part of this mid-life update, and all in challenging circumstances for our industry partners.

 “And while we were unable to deploy to Antarctica this season, we will return stronger at the end of 2021.”