The ice-breaker MV Polarbjorn - to be named HMS Protector - has been leased on a three-year contract from Norwegian company GC Rieber Shipping and has just had an intensive ten-day refit in Odense, Denmark.
The vessel - painted in the same distinctive red and white livery as her predecessor ice patrol ships - entered Portsmouth as MV Protector under the Norwegian flag. She will be officially named HMS Protector on 1 June 2011 and will be commissioned into the Royal Navy fleet on 23 June 2011.
She will deploy on the Navy’s Antarctic task in November 2011, serving in the region for the 2011-12 austral summer. Meanwhile, the long-term future of Endurance will be considered.
Captain Peter Sparkes, Commanding Officer of HMS Protector, said the first entry into Portsmouth marked a key milestone in the regeneration of the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship:
I am very proud of what my ship’s company and all associated with this project have achieved in such short order.
We look forward very much to naming our new ship formally on June 1 and commissioning her into the fleet at Portsmouth on June 23 which is symbolically the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the Antarctic Treaty.
The ship’s refit included the removal and repositioning of the flight deck from the bridge roof to the stern, the installation of a multibeam echo sounder survey system, a complete overhaul of the main engines and gearboxes, and the addition of naval insignia.
The new ship was designed and built in 2001 as an Antarctic research ship. She is fitted with two main deck cranes and three internal holds and can position to within a radius of 70 centimetres in winds of up to 40 knots (74km/h).
HMS Protector is to be equipped with a state-of-the-art survey motor boat and initially two Pacific 22 rigid inflatable boats, which will be replaced next year by a landing craft vehicle for the carriage of stores and equipment to shore.
Three all-terrain vehicles and three quad bikes, complete with trailers, will also be carried and craned directly onto the ice to assist in the resupply of British Antarctic Survey scientific stations.
Protector has a historic connection with Britain’s Antarctic commitment - it was the name of the ship which preceded the former Endurance (1968-91) in the South Atlantic role.
Protector was the sixth ship to bear the name and completed 13 Antarctic deployments in 1955-68. A seventh ship of the name - formerly the Seaforth Saga - saw service as a Falkland Islands patrol vessel from 1983 before being sold in 1987.
Initially, the current HMS Endurance was also leased from a commercial source. Originally a Norwegian ice-breaker, she entered service as HMS Polar Circle in 1991 before being purchased outright by the MOD the following year and renamed Endurance.
Protector will carry out all the functions of an Antarctic patrol ship. She will deploy for seven months of the year to patrol and survey the Antarctic and South Atlantic, maintaining a UK presence and supporting the international community in the region.
This involves close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK Hydrographic Office and the British Antarctic Survey.
Currently the survey ship HMS Scott, with state-of-the-art surveying equipment, is maintaining the Royal Navy presence in the South Atlantic. While she can fulfil many of the tasks undertaken by Endurance, she does not have ice-breaking capability and therefore cannot reach some of the areas that Endurance could do and that Protector will.
No decision has yet been taken on whether to repair or to replace HMS Endurance which suffered significant damage following a major flood which occurred when the ship was operating in the South Atlantic in 2008.