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Major overhaul for the British Navy HMS Protector A173 icebreaker


The British Navy’s only icebreaker HMS Protector is undergoing a major overhaul on Teesside – including preparing the ship to carry unmanned survey devices. HMS Protector is the Royal Navy’s only Ice Patrol Ship. She calls the freezing waters of Antarctica and the Southern Hemisphere home.
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Major overhaul for the British Navy HMS Protector A173 icebreaker 925 001 British Navy HMS Protector A173 icebreaker.(Picture source Britsh Navy)


The distinctive Plymouth-based scientific vessel spends the austral summer – winter back in the UK – charting the waters around the frozen continent and working side-by-side with the British Antarctic Survey to gather information on the southern ocean, ice and sea levels and the region’s unique wildlife. Given the unforgiving nature of the Antarctic environment, Protector undergoes maintenance every time she returns from the southern ocean.

And every five years she is subjected to ‘deep maintenance’ – a particularly thorough revamp which will prepare the vessel for the long term, in this case until the middle of the decade. So over the summer, shipwrights and engineers at UK Docks are working above and below the waterline, overhauling Protector from bow to stern, topmast to keel.

Her 60-tonne crane – which has repeatedly proven its worth in loading/offloading supplies and equipment in remote locations with no port facilities – and flight deck have already been removed for major servicing and, with the dry dock emptied, extensive work is taking place on the hull; moving at four knots, the 5,000-tonne vessel can cut through ice half a metre thick.

Beyond what might be regarded as routine maintenance, the ship is being substantially upgraded to embrace latest operational scientific/survey techniques, including increasing use of autonomous survey methods.

He leads one of the most eclectic teams on any Royal Navy vessel: a specialist crew of hydrographers, meteorologists, engineers, logisticians, and warfare personnel, plus Royal Marines (specialists on survival in cold environments) divers, scientists, a Royal Navy photographer and, occasionally, an artist in residence – up to 100 souls in all, living and working in some of the most austere and challenging conditions on the planet.

Once work on Teesside is complete, Protector’s ship’s company will undergo operational sea training before the ship deploys in the autumn in time for the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The British Navy HMS Protector is an ice patrol ship that was built in Norway in mid 2000. She was commissioned into the Navy on 23 June 2011 as HMS Protector. The commissioning ceremony was held on the 50th anniversary of the date that the Antarctic Treaty came into force.[18] During September 2011, Protector embarked on operational sea training in preparation for her first deployment in November.

HMS Protector operates several small boats, including the survey motor boat James Caird IV, the ramped work boat Terra Nova and two Pacific 22 RIBs Nimrod and Aurora. She also embarks three BV206 all-terrain vehicles and a number of quad-bikes and trailers for activities on Antarctica, such as moving stores and equipment. The James Caird IV is a 10.5-metre (34 ft), ice-capable survey motor boat built by Mustang Marine in Pembroke Dockyard, based on a design of existing British Antarctic Survey boats. It has a crew of five, plus up to five passengers.