The Royal Navy’s only ice patrol ship has returned to sea after a £14m revamp to improve her ability to work in Antarctica.
HMS Protector has left Teeside after the 10-month overhaul, the biggest and longest during her career under the White Ensign.
The work means the ship will be better at breaking the ice, can carry more equipment and supplies to scientists in Antarctica and has better facilities for the crew, the Royal Navy said.
Protector, unique in the Navy’s fleet, spent five months out of the water and was originally due to return in the autumn before heading south to update maritime charts of Antarctic waters.
However, the revamp was more comprehensive and demanding than anticipated, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the ship sailed three months later than planned.
Lieutenant Commander Robin Nash, HMS Protector’s 1st Lieutenant, said the work on the ship had been "the most complex, demanding, and hopefully transformative project" he had been part of in 21 years in the Royal Navy.
He said the pandemic had added complications that "could not possibly have been anticipated", from working routines and habits to enforced medical protection for all involved.
However, Lt Cdr Nash added the "level of ingenuity and pragmatism from the ship’s company" had been "truly humbling".
As well as the usual refit work, the revamp created better cargo space, a new quarter deck structure with a naval stores complex and a workshop to maintain Protector’s small boats.
There is also a new gym, kitted out with £50,000 worth of fitness equipment for the sailors and Royal Marines on board.
Captain Michael Wood, HMS Protector’s Commanding Officer, said the revamp had transformed the ship into a Polar Class vessel "ready for operations in the ice".
"The ship has undergone wholesale modernisation, exceptional amounts of structural rework, and significant capability enhancement as part of this mid-life update, and all in challenging circumstances for our industry partners," he said.
"And while we were unable to deploy to Antarctica this season, we will return stronger at the end of 2021."
Cover image: Library photo of HMS Protector (Picture: MOD).