UK: Antarctic Survey Vessel HMS Protector Prepares for Maiden Mission


Looking more like one of Her Majesty’s Ships by the day – and less like an oil rig support vessel – is new Antarctic survey vessel HMS Protector, which has spent the summer being readied for her inaugural deployment.

The Portsmouth-based ship now boasts miniguns (Gatling guns) and General Purpose Machine-Guns to protect herself, Pacific 22 sea boats and their cradles, new communications kit, the Navy’s standard digital map system WECDIS, used for navigation by surface ships and submarines in place of traditional paper charts, and – crucially for Protector’s impending mission to the ice – a multi-beam echo sounder for hydrographic surveys.

The ship was loaned earlier this year by the Royal Navy to plug the gap created when HMS Endurance, Britain’s long-standing ice patrol ship, nearly sank during a flooding incident in late 2008.

Norwegian icebreaker MV Polarbjørn was picked – she has worked around the work carrying out survey duties and providing support to the oil and gas industries – and underwent a rapid-fire overhaul in Denmark earlier this year, which saw her flight deck shifted from the bridge roof to the stern among other modifications.

The survey vessel’s pennant number A173 and her name were also added (and her old title Polarbjørn – Polar Bear – painted out) but for more Royal Navy-specific conversions, work had to be carried out once she got to the UK.

There’s still some conversion work to be completed – the ship will be heading to Germany in the next few weeks for an upgrade to her cranes – but the real challenge is readying the 88-strong ship’s company for the maiden deployment to the frozen continent in November.

They will have to come through Operational Sea Training off Plymouth (described by some ships as akin to ‘pre-season training’ in the sporting world) where experts will test the sailors’ responses to fire, flood, terrorist attacks, deft manoeuvring and other challenges the ship might (but hopefully won’t) face.

Protector’s first Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes is sure his men and women will come through with flying colours, because they’ve accomplished all that has been asked of them so far.

“The achievements of my ship’s company thus far have been singularly impressive, the rapid progress made over the last three months is a testament to their drive, determination and professionalism; I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

“We now look forward to the challenges of Operational Sea Training and ultimately our head-mark, deploying to Antarctica as the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel.”

Source: royalnavy, September 2, 2011;