The Royal Navy’s specialist ice-breaking survey ship HMS Protector has arrived in Plymouth – her new base-port – for the first time, to a warm welcome from families and friends.
A crowd of cheering well-wishers waving banners were on the jetty at HM Naval Base Devonport to welcome the bright red ship after a 19-month deployment in the Antarctic.
As the Navy’s Ice Patrol Ship she operated in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic Peninsula to support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in diplomatic terms and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) by conducting survey operations throughout the region.
Captain Rory Bryan, HMS Protector’s commanding officer, said: “Keeping a ship away from home for over a year and a half in the world’s most extreme environment has been challenging, but the ships’ company have risen admirably to this challenge and can be very proud of what they have achieved.’’
Chief Petty Officer Edward Daniels (logistics specialist) was met by his excited daughters Emma, eight, and Abigail, four, on the jetty. He hugged them and his wife Kathryn and said: “I’m so pleased to be back with my family again. It’s now been 18 months away in two years for me on Protector. But even though it’s a long time apart from my family, it’s also been an amazing time doing a fantastic job for the Royal Navy the UK in South America, South Africa, the Caribbean and especially Antarctica – there’s nowhere like it.’’
Kathryn said: “It’s great to have him back again and the girls are so happy. It’s good to have some adult company as well. Now the girls can enjoy having fun with their dad and me.’’
Leading Physical Trainer Gareth Smith was greeted back into Plymouth by his parents Pauline and Michael and his nephew Alfie Paterson aged 22 months. Gareth said he was overwhelmed by his welcome home and said the deployment was rewarding and interesting.
Gareth said: “After sailing from Portsmouth 19 months ago this has been a truly unique deployment. It has been extremely diverse having experienced breathtaking Antarctic ice floes and the heat and beautiful beaches of the British Virgin Islands. This has been a once in a lifetime trip but nothing comes close to the excitement of sailing back into Plymouth, my hometown.”
His family were joined by his fiancee Kate Nesbitt, a Royal Navy Petty Officer medic who works at HMS Raleigh. They are due to marry next year. She became the first female in the Royal Navy to win the Military Cross after bravery in combat in Afghanistan in 2009.
Kate said: “I’m used to being away from home to being separated from Gareth, but each time is different, so its brilliant to have him home again. We are doing up a house for ourselves for when we are married and I’ve saved up lots of jobs for him.’’
One of the youngest sailors onboard, AB(HM) Michael ‘Harvey’ Nicholls said: “During the deployment despite going to the U.S, Panama, the Caribbean, Brazil, Chile and South Africa the greatest place of all was the wilderness of the Antarctic and South Georgia”.
Antarctica has a well deserved reputation for being the harshest environment on earth, however the stunning scenery and unique environment make for a fascinating challenging, appointment for everyone onboard.
The weather and ice make it is impossible for the ship to remain in the South Atlantic during the winter season, so the ship moved to the Caribbean region and West Africa to carry out data-gathering as well as embarking a team to support any humanitarian disaster relief operation if required. Plymouth-based Flag Officer Sea Training staff embarked to provide training before a second summer in Antarctica.
In Antarctica a team of international inspectors onboard visited bases and cruise ships to ensure they were keeping to the Antarctic Treaty Guidelines. Work has also been completed to support the BAS who required the berth and approaches to their base at Rothera surveying to plan for the arrival of a new ship.
During the 19 months the ship has achieved a lot and passed many milestones, the following are some of the highlights:
– Steamed approximately 78,500 nautical miles
– Visited 11 different countries including: Brazil, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, South Africa, USA, Ghana, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Antigua, British Virgin Islands
– Broken 0.5m thick ice
– Played football in the middle of ice floes
– Embarked approximately 100 guests for sea passages
– Hosted up to 200 people for Capability Demonstrations and Sea Days for specific events such as the Battle of the Falklands.
– Visited 18 Antarctic Bases, run by 8 different nations
– Inspected 11 Cruise ships and Yachts
– Conducted 2 CCAMLR Boardings (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources)
– Experienced temperature ranges of -60 degrees (-35 without wind chill) to +37 degrees
– Used approximately 9,500 tonnes of fuel
– Sailed through 20m waves
– used an estimated 3420 toilet rolls!
When HMS Protector sailed from Portsmouth in 2013 she was still owned by GC Rieber and leased by the Royal Navy, since then the ship has been purchased by the Navy and her base port changed from Portsmouth to Plymouth which means this is the first time Protector has been to her new port other than for training.
The ship now undergoes a maintenance period followed by extensive training before preparing to deploy again later in 2015.