HMS Protector in the Antarctic

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News

Protector punches through Antarctic ice in a race against time to pick up scientists
16 March 2012

Worsening ice conditions forced survey ship HMS Protector to cut short research by scientists in Antarctic.

The survey ship had to punch her way through – and then back out of – the ice pack around remote James Ross Island to first drop off, then pick up, a team of geologists.

Protector’s Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes stares at the searchlight-lit floes of ice off James Ross Island. Pictures: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare, HMS Protector

THE Navy’s Antarctic patrol ship had to punch her way through ice to first deliver, then pick up a team of scientists as the pack ice threatened to trap them – and the ship.

The Portsmouth-based survey ship was charged with putting a small team from the British Antarctic Survey ashore so they could collect geological samples on remote James Ross Island off the eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

She did so courtesy of her small work boat, Terra Nova, which carefully negotiated the ice field to land the scientists and their equipment, including sufficient food and fuel to last up to 30 days in one of the world’s most inhospitable locations.

While the scientists got to work, the weather and ice forecasts aboard the survey ship began to look increasingly unfavourable.

After four days on James Ross Island, the decision was made to pull the scientists out much earlier than anticipated – a change of wind direction meant there was a chance ice from the Weddell Sea would be driven towards James Ross Island – potentially blocking HMS Protector in, like a cork in a bottle.

HMS Protector is reflected in the calm waters off James Ross Island as she carries out survey work

Protector’s Commanding Officer Capt Peter Sparkes decided the safest and least risky option would be to sail through the ever-increasing pack ice and send in the Terra Nova, fast rescue craft Yelcho and the inflatable boat, Whiskey 1.

The scientists were extracted with all kit and were back aboard HMS Protector within 90 minutes of the first boat entering the water thank to a textbook operation.

But now the ship had to fight her way out of the ice.

“Then the daunting task of breaking out of James Ross Island and into open water where the ice density was not as thick began in earnest,” said Capt Sparkes.

“With very careful navigation and a cool head, HMS Protector managed to break through some densely consolidated pack ice in the Erebus and Terror Gulf at night and into relatively safer waters.”

Protector's work boat heads ashore at James Ross Island

Professor Mike Hambrey from Aberystwyth University and working with BAS said despite the abridged visit to the island, it had nevertheless been worthwhile.

“Unusually-adverse ice conditions meant that it required three attempts to get through to James Ross Island,” he added.

“We are grateful to the crew of HMS Protector for their persistence in eventually finding a way through the ice, although this left us with only four days on the island, we achieved a lot in that time.”

Having experienced some extremely-challenging ice-breaking conditions, Protector has resumed her survey work around the frozen continent.

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