THE Royal Navy’s new ice patrol ship has embarked on her maiden voyage to survey Antarctica.
HMS Protector left Portsmouth yesterday and will spend eight months in the frozen continent.
The 5,000-tonne icebreaker will arrive in the Antarctic in time for summer there.
Using her echo sounder and survey motorboat the ship will provide cutting-edge charting and imagery of the region for the UK Hydrographic Office, which provides 80 per cent of the world’s nautical charts.
Operations officer Andy Storey said: ‘We will be involved in missions where we collect the data that will be turned into charts.
‘We have a responsibility to provide the means of safe navigation of other mariners that operate in the British Antarctic Territory.
‘There will be a lot of climatology and geology work, because Antarctica is a special part of the world and can give us an insight into how other continents work.
‘We have a remit to patrol the area, engaging with all the various other nations – there are 29 other nations in Antarctica.
‘Ultimately, as a British presence in the region, we also need to be ready to assist with any distress call or call for assistance.’
He added: ‘We can’t underestimate how big the challenge is going to be in terms of the environment.’
‘It’s difficult to describe what a privilege it is to be going to this place.’
HMS Protector will support the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on two projects.
In the first, climatologists from the BAS and University of Exeter will collect peat cores to look at climate change.
The second will see scientists from the University of Leicester who collaborate with the BAS visit James Ross Island to look for evidence of changes in glaciers.
Commanding officer Captain Peter Sparkes said: ‘My ship’s company have worked tirelessly in recent months to regenerate the navy’s ice patrol capability.
‘Working doggedly as a team, we have achieved all that has been asked of us and to a demanding timeline.
‘I could not be more proud of the men and women under my command.
‘We’re now ready in all respects to face the rigours of eight months in the extremely hostile environment of Antarctica.’
HMS Protector is being leased as a replacement for HMS Endurance which has been out of action since she almost sank off Chile in 2008.
She was commissioned into the Royal Navy in June this year.