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Ice ship in paradise as HMS Protector begins deployment in the tropics

HMS Protector at anchor in James Bay, St Helena
15 September 2021
The Royal Navy’s sole ice ship has begun her 2021-22 deployment in earnest – with no snow or ice in sight.

HMS Protector is spending the next month working around two British tropical islands in the mid-Atlantic to help preserve the environment and map waters last charted 200 years ago.

The distinctive red-and-white survey ship has arrived off St Helena – 1,100 miles south of the Equator and a similar distance from the west coast of Africa – for an intensive period of surveying and patrolling fishing grounds.

She’ll also conduct similar fishery patrols around Ascension Island, 800 miles to the northwest.

The waters around both islands are protected by the government’s Blue Belt programme – part of a wider United Nations initiative to safeguard 30 per cent of all oceans by the end of the decades.

The sea off St Helena is home to yellowfin, bigeye, skipjack and albacore tuna and wahoo, while a protected area twice the size of the UK has been created around Ascension Island to protect green turtles, swordfish, sharks, tuna and marlin.

Technology, such as monitoring AIS transponders, which give away the position of vessels over 300 tonnes, and satellite imagery, are used to keep an eye remotely on any illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

But Protector will spend a protracted period patrolling around both islands as a very visible deterrent.

At the same time, her hydrographic teams are out with their sensors, sonar scanners and sampling and measuring equipment looking for any potential hazards to seafarers. Some waters around St Helena have not been surveyed since Napoleon was exiled to the island in the early 19th Century.

Protector’s sailors will have the chance to get ashore and see some of the islands – Ascension is home to just 800 souls, St Helena to around 4,500 – and the opening of the new airport on St Helena will permit one third of the ship’s company to trade places with shipmates from home. The regular rotation of crew helps to sustain Protector on patrols far from home for longer periods.

Once her work in the mid-Atlantic is done, Protector will continue south to begin her traditional austral summer duties around the Antarctic Peninsula, supporting the work of British and international scientists studying the frozen continent and its impact on the rest of the planet.

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