Icebreaker HMS Protector, formerly MV Polarbjørn, has spent the spring and summer steadily being converted into a hydrographic survey ship to plug the gap left by HMS Endurance which nearly sank during a flooding incident in late 2008.
Lined up imminently is a spot of Operational Sea Training with the team at Flag Officer Sea Training in Devonport who test the response of the 88-strong ship’s company to fire, flood, attacks and other challenges they might face while deployed 10,000 miles from home.
Although Protector won’t carry a helicopter on her maiden deployment to the frozen continent (there’s no hangar to accommodate one), the ability to operate a whirlybird is a prerequisite for the ship taking her place in the front line.
Over two days the ship conducted various maneuvers with a Dauphin from the FOST Helicopter Support Unit off Plymouth, testing command and bridge teams, flight deck officers and crew.
Aside from their skill and expertise, the Protectors were helped by the ship’s ‘dynamic positioning system’ – computers which accurately maintain her position and heading with impressive accuracy, even in heavy weather.
The ship is now cleared to operate the FOST helicopters and will, in the near future, take it to the next level by launching, recovering and refueling Lynx Mk8 helicopters – the mainstay of aerial operations by the Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet.
Protector’s progress in the run-up to her maiden deployment is being followed, understandably, by Commander-in-Chief Fleet Admiral Sir Trevor Soar.
He visited the ship for a day at sea off Portsmouth, presented various awards and commendations to members of the ship’s company on behalf of her Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes, thanked all aboard for their efforts in working so hard to ready Protector for that impending first tour of duty, and finally witnessed her impressive maneuverability as the sailors – using the 360˚ panoramic bridge and its state-of-the-art navigation and control consoles – brought the icebreaker back alongside.