News story

Royal Navy ice patrol ship frees Norwegian liner

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A Norwegian cruise liner at risk of becoming trapped in thick ice off the coast of Antarctica has been guided to safety by the Royal Navy in a two-hour operation.

HMS Protector broke through the densely packed ice which had surrounded the MV Fram, blocking her path and trapping the bow, as she carried passengers through the Antarctic Sound.

She had been following the patrol ship through the gaps in the pack ice when she was surrounded by a number of fast-moving floes.

HMS Protector immediately turned back to help, approaching the Fram from astern and breaking up the ice - which was up to four metres thick. Taking just over 2 hours at speeds of just 2 knots, the Fram was eventually released and led to safety.

The Commanding Officer of HMS Protector, Captain Peter Sparkes, said:

This is what we do in the ice patrol ship; we are the Royal Navy’s equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife - red, versatile and always there when you need us.

Protector’s ship’s company are highly trained and well-equipped to deal with a spectrum of operations in Antarctica. That we are able to do so, so readily, is a clear demonstration of the Royal Navy’s global reach and operational preparedness.

The MV Fram surrounded by ice floes
The MV Fram surrounded by ice floes [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Arron Hoare, Crown Copyright/MOD 2013]

Sub-Lieutenant Rowland Stacey of the Royal Canadian Navy, currently on exchange with the Royal Navy and serving on HMS Protector, said:

This was an extremely impressive feat - operations in ice can be very challenging, but HMS Protector made it look easy. I am delighted to be a part of this team.

Ice conditions in Antarctica are extremely variable and subject to the vagaries of the continent’s wind and local currents. Ships can quickly become beset when the concentration of pack ice increases, and, once they are trapped, ships may have to wait for days, or even weeks, to escape.

HMS Protector is continuing with her patrol of the British Antarctic Territory, supporting an embarked international inspection team’s surveys of environmentally sensitive sites around the peninsula.

The ship, which serves as the UK’s sovereign presence in Antarctica, will complete 3 further five-week patrols of the continent before heading north at the beginning of April and the onset of the austral winter.