The Royal Navy's sole icebreaker HMS Protector is sailing for the Antarctic, her first visit to the frozen continent since 2019. With the UK about to be the focus of international efforts to tackle climate change as it hosts the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow, the unique survey/research ship will continue her work supporting scientists from around the world to study the impact of global warming.
A major refit – the most comprehensive in the ship’s history – confined her to Middlesbrough for much of 2020. She ‘warmed up’ for work in sub-zero temperatures by sailing into the Arctic in June to practice crunching ice, venturing further north than any Royal Navy vessel within recent memory – just 1,050 kilometers from the top of the world.
On this deployment, however, her work initially will be concentrated in the warmer climes of two of Britain’s South Atlantic territories: Ascension Island – In the middle of the ocean between Brazil and Angola – and, 800 miles to the southeast, St Helena.
Some of the stretches of water around the remote islands have not been surveyed in 200 years, so Admiralty Charts – used not just by the Royal Navy, but seafarers the world over – need updating courtesy of the latest sonar and surveying equipment Protector carries.
The ship will begin her polar work in December at the height of the austral summer – temperatures can creep just above freezing – visiting UK and international research stations peppered around the British Antarctic Territory, and extensively surveying the seabed here.
Commanding Officer Captain Michael Wood said his ship’s return to Antarctica “highlights the Navy and nation’s determination to contribute to climate science and limit climate change.”
He continued: “I am proud of the very hard yards this team made to reset the ice patrol ship. It’s time now for new adventures at the other end of the world.”
His ship’s company are relishing the opportunity to visit places ‘eco-tourists’ pay thousands of pounds to experience.