The Royal Navy will have a new ‘Protector’ of British interests in Antarctica. HMS Protector, upholding the famous name of the 1950s and 60s Antarctic survey vessel, is being loaned on a three-year trial with the Fleet while the long-term future of the Antarctic Patrol vessel HMS Endurance is considered.
Since Endurance (also known as the ‘Red Plum’ because of her colors) returned to the UK following a major flooding incident in 2008, HMS Scott conducted the Royal Navy’s Antarctic patrols in support of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). While her hull is not ice strengthened thus limiting the areas of the Antarctic she can reach, her state of the art Hydrographic capability proved in valuable to BAS.
GC Rieber Shipping has been chosen as the preferred bidder to lease the vessel that will become the Royal Navy’s HMS Protector for an initial period of three years. This follows the SDSR (Strategic Defense and Security Review) decision to maintain the ice patrol capability and will be a temporary measure until a decision is made about the future of HMS Endurance.
Defense Minister Lord Astor said that Polarbjørn – to be renamed HMS Protector – would “provide the interim replacement ice patrol ship capability for at least the next three years while we consider the long-term future of HMS Endurance.”
Lord Astor said the Navy had still to decide whether the ice patrol ship’s mission could best be performed in the long term by a repaired Endurance – or whether she should be replaced.
The vessel will be commanded and crewed by the Royal Navy with the ship’s company comprising 76 personnel. Her operational tasks will include: patrol and support to the South Atlantic Territories of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands; sovereign base and environmental inspections in support of the international agreements enshrined in the Antarctic Treaty, now in its 50th year; the provision of logistic support to the British Antarctic Survey and other national agencies operating in British Antarctic Territory, and wider regional engagement as required.
“HMS Protector and her Ship’s Company will be uniquely equipped and trained to operate in the Antarctic’s demanding environment, in support of the UK’s national interests in the region and the British Antarctic Survey’s scientific research”, said First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.
The new HMS Protector is a commercial icebreaker normally based in Bergen, but which has been operating most recently in the Caribbean. Completed in 2001 and displacing 4,985 tons, she can act as a polar research ship or sub-sea support vessel, and has 100 berths.
She is around 1,000 tons smaller than Endurance but, unlike the current stand-in HMS Scott, she has a flight deck – though as that currently sits atop the bridge roof there may be a need to modify the ship’s configuration for Royal Navy operations in the far south.
“Polarbjørn” is expected in Portsmouth in May to be fitted with specialist military equipment required for her deployments. Her owner, GC Rieber, also owns the scientific support ship RRS Ernest Shackleton, currently chartered to the British Antarctic Survey.
As for the ship’s new name, it is taken from the sixth HMS Protector which completed 13 Antarctic ‘seasons’ between 1955 and 1968. She was launched in 1936 as a net-layer, seeing service in the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean in World War 2 before being badly damaged by an aerial torpedo and undergoing major repairs in Bombay.
She was paid off in May 1968 to be replaced by HMS Endurance (the current Endurance’s predecessor), and finally scrapped in Scotland in 1970.