HMS Protector became the first Royal Navy vessel to visit the Eastern Antarctica or sail below 77 degrees latitude since before the Second World War.
Protector is a Royal Navy ice patrol ship built in Norway in 2001. As MV Polarbjørn she operated under charter as a polar research icebreaker and a sub-sea support vessel. In 2011, she was chartered as a temporary replacement for the ice patrol ship, HMS Endurance and was purchased outright by the British Ministry of Defence in September 2013.
WO Jimmy Stuart, Protector’s deputy marine engineering officer, said:
“This was my first station visit and it was fascinating to see how the team supported themselves in such an inhospitable environment. It is one of our roles to visit stations in order to build up good relationships amongst the Antarctic Treaty nations.
While it was a bright sunny day when we visited, we have become all too aware of how quickly the weather can turn nasty down here.”
In late 2015, Protector commenced a 20-month deployment to the Ross Sea for fisheries patrol and hydrographic survey operations. It is the first time that a Royal Navy vessel has operated in the waters south of Australia and New Zealand since 1936. In addition to the ship’s usual equipment, three unmanned aerial vehicles (designed and 3D printed by the University of Southampton) were embarked. Sailing from Devonport, Protector visited the Seychelles and Diego Garcia en-route before proceeding to Tasmania, Australia.
Protector operates several small boats, including the survey motor boat James Caird IV, the ramped work boat Terra Nova and two Pacific 22 RIBs Nimrod and Aurora. She also embarks three BV206 all-terrain vehicles and a number of quad-bikes and trailers for activities on Antarctica, such as moving stores and equipment.
HMS Protector inspected fishing ships to ensure they kept to the area’s strict licensing regulations. The ship also visited the Antarctic research station, Mario Zucchelli, on the shores of Terra Nova Bay.