Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship HMS Protector sails into new home

HMS Protector ''''Picture: LA(Phot) Dan Rosenbaum
HMS Protector ''''Picture: LA(Phot) Dan Rosenbaum
Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson. Pictute: LPhot Ioan Roberts

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The Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship has sailed into her new home port for the first time.

HMS Protector, formerly based in Portsmouth, now calls Plymouth her home.

After sailing from Portsmouth 19 months ago this has been a truly unique deployment...

Leading Physical Trainer Gareth Smith

It comes after a change to allow all the navy’s survey ships to be in one place.

A crowd of cheering well-wishers lined the jetty at Devonport Naval Base to welcome the bright red ship home for the first time after a 19-month deployment in the Antarctic.

Captain Rory Bryan, the commanding officer of HMS Protector, 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 ship’s company have risen admirably to this challenge and can be very proud of what they have achieved.’

When Protector sailed from Portsmouth in 2013 she only leased to the Royal Navy by Norwegian shipping firm GC Rieber. The navy has now purchased the ship.

Leading Physical Trainer Gareth Smith was greeted back into Plymouth by his parents Pauline and Michael and his nephew Alfie Paterson aged 22 months.

LPT Smith said he was overwhelmed by his welcome home and said the deployment was rewarding and interesting.

He said: ‘After sailing from Portsmouth 19 months ago this has been a truly unique deployment.

‘It has been extremely diverse having experienced breath-taking 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 fiancée 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.

She 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.’

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 on-board.

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.

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.