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HMS Protector completes first work period in Antarctica

6 December 2017
HMS Protector has surveyed areas never been surveyed before during her first work package of the ice season.

The ice patrol ship left the Falkland Islands for an 850-mile journey to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The UK Hydrographic Office had requested these areas be surveyed to provide detailed, high-resolution data in order to update the charts. The areas are becoming increasingly popular destinations for tourist cruise ships.

Protector arrived at the former whaling station of Grytviken in South Georgia and sent a ‘tide team’ ashore to set up gauges and monitor the rise and fall of the sea on a tide pole.

For Petty Officer (HM) John-Paul Priestley and his team the weather was challenging with air temperatures dropping to minus 14 degrees and frequent bursts of sleet and snow.

Any hardship was offset by the spectacular surroundings, with thousands of seals and elephant seals fighting for primacy on the beach at the height of their breeding season and forming a considerable and potentially hazardous barrier to moving around.

Protector then moved to Cumberland West Bay and deployed her survey motor boat the James Caird IV, which is able to enter shallow areas.

It was an excellent opportunity for newly-endorsed SMB coxswain LS (HM) ‘Mo’ Morris to test his skills among the large chunks of glacial ice.

The ship and SMB went where, almost certainly, no one had gone before, collecting huge amounts of data to chart the bay.

The ship’s company also went ashore to monitor glacial erosion in the region and to map the coastline in areas where land has been exposed by recent glacial retreat.

Protector then headed further south east to one of the UK’s most remote and least-visited Overseas Territories to conduct a sovereignty patrol of the South Sandwich Islands. 

The ship passed by Zavodovski Island, an active volcano made famous by BBC’s Planet Earth II and home to one of the largest Chinstrap penguin colonies on earth. 

The ultimate aim was to visit Southern Thule, the southernmost island in the South Sandwich island chain, but this early in the season the weather had other ideas and, having encountered the first large icebergs of the year, the ship finally reached the edge of the seasonal sea ice in the vicinity of Montagu Island.

Ice-breaking skills were put into practice before returning to Saunders Island, another active volcano, to conduct the next survey.

Once the collected data has been processed and double checked by the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton, Saunders Island in the South Sandwich Islands and Cumberland West Bay on the north coast of South Georgia will be safer places for visiting ships.

Protector is two years into a five year deployment to the South Atlantic and Antarctica in support of UK interests in the region.  This includes the completion of five work packages over each Austral summer season travelling to various locations in and around the Antarctic Peninsula. 

During these periods she undertakes hydrographic surveys of the area to improve the safety of navigation, conducts base visits and provides support to UK and foreign research stations as well as assisting the British Antarctic Survey and UK Antarctic Heritage Trust with the study and preservation of this unique part of the world.

You can follow HMS Protector’s activities on Twitter at @protector_hms.

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