The Royal Navy’s icebreaker and polar research ship HMS Protector (A173) is returning to the ice as summer returns to Antarctica.
Following several months spent off South Africa, Madagascar and the central Indian Ocean, the Plymouth-based scientific vessel is back among the bergs.
“Protector is well and truly on the way back to her Antarctic home ground – we’ve already seen the first iceberg of the season,” Captain Matt Syrett, Commanding Officer of HMS Protector, said.
Used to chart poorly-mapped Antarctic waters, conduct environment studies and work alongside British and international scientists performing research into polar climate and wildlife, HMS Protector is three years into a five-year mission.
The vessel is spending the Antarctic summer in and around the ice and retreating to South Africa for the austral winter to undergo maintenance. She will then head either up the West African coast or into the Indian Ocean, according to the navy.
Summer 2018 has been spent around the remote British territory of Diego Garcia, the only island in the Chagos chain where there’s human habitation.
Lying roughly halfway between Sri Lanka and Madagascar, Diego Garcia is a major UK/US military base. Its waters had not been accurately surveyed for 180 years, prompting a ten-day concerted effort to rectify that fact.
On the way back to South Africa, the ship paid a short visit to the French island of La Réunion which gave crew the chance to see an active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, link up with French sailors and tour the new French icebreaker, L’Astrolabe, designed to perform much the same mission as Protector.
After leaving Cape Town, HMS Protector struck out across the South Atlantic for the Falklands, which serve as her forward base when operating around the Antarctic peninsula, facing rough seas – waves of 20ft-30ft high at times.
To ensure the crew are ready for the rigours of living and operating in the polar region, they face an inspection and assessment by the Royal Navy’s principal training organisation, FOST, before leaving the Falklands for the ice.
Protector is not due back in Plymouth until the spring of 2020, although one third of her crew change places every few weeks to sustain her thousands of miles from home for extended periods.