AFTER seven months on patrol in the Antarctic, HMS Protector’s sailors wanted a keepsake of their adventures.
And that’s why the ship returned to Portsmouth yesterday with a huge slab of Antarctic ice in the freezer.
But this 900,000-year-old chunk of the frozen continent isn’t being stored as part of the ship’s scientific duties.
‘We’ve been having it in our gin and tonics,’ said Lieutenant Laura Carter, adding: ‘I know, it’s quite decadent.’
The 5,000-tonne ice patrol vessel sailed home to none of the usual fanfare or cheering crowds of families expected at naval homecomings.
That’s because the 70-man warship, which operates at sea 330 days a year, has three rotating watches which regularly swap around. The ship has only returned for a brief maintenance period before setting off on her next deployment in September.
After joining the navy on loan last year to replace the damaged icebreaker HMS Endurance, Protector sailed south to map previously uncharted waters and re supply British scientific bases.
But the ship also dealt with an unexpected tragedy when sailors responded to a fire at a Brazilian Antarctic base which claimed the lives of two scientists in February.
Able Seaman Alex Bullous, 32, helped tackle the flames.
He said: ‘We had visited the base only a few of weeks before it happened and it was shocking to see all the buildings burnt down. We gathered loads of equipment together and assembled teams ashore.
‘We did everything we could. They had run out of resources and were pretty distressed when we got there.
‘I saw the two body bags going on to the helicopter.’
The ship’s commanding officer, Captain Peter Sparkes, said: ‘It was very tragic, especially as we’d visited the base three weeks before and it was in an immaculate condition.
‘We sent 23 sailors ashore and stopped the fire spreading to a nearby oil dump.’
Summing up Protector’s maiden Antarctic patrols, he said: ‘It’s been a very busy and rewarding deployment.
‘My experience of the Antarctic before had been limited to training and David Attenborough. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but could also be very harsh and cruel.’