News story

HMS Protector battles through ice to retrieve scientists

The Portsmouth-based survey ship had delivered a small geology team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to remote James Ross Island, off…

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The Portsmouth-based survey ship had delivered a small geology team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to remote James Ross Island, off the eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Sailors used her small work boat Terra Nova to carefully navigate the ice field and land the scientists with equipment, food and fuel to last 30 days in one of the world’s bleakest locations.

While the scientists got to work, the weather and ice forecasts in the area began to worsen.

And so, after four days, the ship’s command decided to pull the scientists out much earlier than planned. A change of wind meant there was a chance ice from the nearby Weddell Sea would be driven towards James Ross Island and potentially block HMS Protector in - like a cork in a bottle.

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

The scientists were collected with all their kit and were back aboard HMS Protector within 90 minutes of the first boat entering the water.

But now the ship had to fight her way out of the ice in the Erebus and Terror Gulf:

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 Captain Sparkes.

With very careful navigation and a cool head, our ship’s company managed to break through some dense pack ice in the Erebus and Terror Gulf at night and into relatively safer waters.

Professor Mike Hambrey from Aberystwyth University, who’s working in Antarctica with the BAS, said he was grateful for the help and glad they had been able to do some research.

He said:

Unusually adverse ice conditions meant it had taken three attempts to get through to James Ross Island.

We are grateful to the crew of HMS Protector for their persistence in eventually finding a way through the ice and 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.

The incident last week came shortly after sailors from HMS Protector fought a major fire at a research station which claimed the lives of two Brazilians.

Twenty-three sailors from Protector with firefighting equipment took over four hours to extinguish the blaze at Brazil’s Ferraz research station.

The Brazilian Government praised HMS Protector’s crew for their assistance in the incident and invited British representatives to the memorial service for the two casualties.

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Published 19 March 2012