HMS Protector (Picture: MOD).
Sea vessels

Onboard HMS Protector: The Royal Navy's Ice Patrol Ship

HMS Protector (Picture: MOD).

HMS Protector is the Royal Navy's only Ice Patrol Ship (Picture: MOD).

The Royal Navy has re-tasked HMS Protector, its designated Ice Patrol Ship, to the Bahamas as relief efforts continue following Hurricane Dorian.

The vessel is on-route to the humanitarian crisis, bringing large stores of food, water and clothing from Bermuda.

HMS Protector spends up to 330 days a year in the ice-packed seas of the South Atlantic and fulfils a unique support role.

HMS Protector tweet on Hurricane Dorian 090919 CREDIT Twitter
It has taken HMS Protector four days to transit to the affected region (Picture: Twitter).

Forces News has taken a look onboard the ship...

Assets and functions

This ice patroller is equipped with two cranes capable of lifting up to 60 tonnes of supplies.

With 4,741 horsepower and a uniquely-shaped bow, Protector has the capacity to break through thick ice and provide vital support to those caught up in earth's most challenging conditions.

The Royal Navy describes Protector as their 'Swiss Army Knife', red, versatile and always there when you need her.

When the crew first reach the ice, their first task is to survey the seabed within a five-kilometre radius, multibeam echosounder equipment measuring shallow waters for safe navigation.

HMS Protector is better suited to ice-breaking than navigating through rough sea.
HMS Protector is better suited to ice-breaking than navigating through rough sea.

Inside the vessel, a relatively small company enjoy a more relaxed environment than onboard a frigate or a destroyer, swapping huge weaponry to more decks and study areas.

Quiet moments are rare, though. Up to 65 personnel onboard are given huge amounts of responsibility, rotating within a 330-day patrol.

Workshop spaces common to other military ships have been swapped for large, multi-purpose containers used as offices, medical supply rooms and engineering workshops to maintain vehicles. 

HMS Protector also provides support to the British Antarctic Survey, providing manpower and supplies to the two stations that secure a British presence in the area, even breaking scientists into unreachable research climates.


Formerly, the ship was known as 'MV Polarbjørn' (polar bear in Norwegian), built and used in Norway until 2010.

The vessel arrived at Portsmouth Naval Base in May 2011, tasked with renewing the Royal Navy's ice patrol presence in the South Atlantic after severe flooding to HMS Endurance in 2008.


From the archive: Portsmouth naval base held the commissioning of HMS Protector on 23 June 2011

After being commissioned in Portsmouth, Protector went through a period of sea training.

The ice patrol ship is a signature UK ability and reaffirms the support for British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic, such as the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic.

In 1959, the Antarctic Treaty removed Antarctica from international discord, setting it aside as a scientific preserve and banning military activity on the continent.

Britain took on the role of caretaker of the Antarctic peninsula, HMS Protector's Antarctic patrol means observing scientific communities and preventing environmental disasters.

From the archive: Forces News reporter Tim Cooper spent some time onboard HMS Protector in 2015

Fit for purpose

Turning a civilian ship into a Royal Navy vessel provides some logistical questions.

Before HMS Protector received her charter, the helipad was repositioned from in front of the bridge to the stern.

Modifications were also made to below the luxury decks, now able to carry extra equipment.  

HMS Protector crew celebrate Christmas on the ice (Picture: DNISFW).
HMS Protector crew celebrate Christmas on the ice (Picture: MOD).

The crew, which includes ice-divers, requires the equipment necessary to fend for itself in deadly environments.

As it stands, the Navy's 'Swiss Army knife' still faces challenges in adapting to these climates.

The ship's design means it is better suited to ice-breaking than remaining stable on top of large waves, making it more difficult for the crew to navigate through rough seas.

In January, HMS Protector helped to free the trapped Norweigan cruiseliner, MV Fram, from the ice.

The crew must also take every opportunity they can to stay sharp during long periods at sea.

In 2014, they took to the ice for a change in scenery during a routine physical training session. Though being away from home during festive seasons can be difficult for many of the personnel, they have also taken their opportunity to celebrate a white Christmas. 

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