Gallery: Antarctic patrol ship sails into Ipswich Docks

ONE of the Royal Navy’s most distinctive vessels is spending a few days in Ipswich to meet affiliated organisations before setting out for the far side of the world.

HMS Protector is the Navy’s latest Antarctic patrol vessel and will be heading back to the other side of the world next month.

The former Norwegian support vessel was commissioned into the Navy last year and will be heading out on its second patrol in the Southern Ocean.

It is formally affiliated to Cambridge – home of the British Antarctic Survey – hence its visit to Ipswich, the nearest deepwater port to the city. But it also has strong connections with the rest of the region.

Chief petty officer Phil Innes is from Sudbury and his parents still live in Suffolk.

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He was delighted to bring his ship to his home county: “They’re coming on board tomorrow. I served on the original HMS Endurance in the 1980s, and this will be my fourth trip to the Antarctic,” he said.

The crew have worked in a variety of vessels – including guarding shipping from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, guarding the Gulf, and patrolling the Caribbean on the hunt for drug smugglers.

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Commanding officer Captain Peter Sparkes has close links to Suffolk – his wife is from Ipswich and his son was born at the Heath Road hospital.

The nature of HMS Protector’s work is very different from that of most Naval vessels – it is the only vessel not to be painted battleship grey.

Capt Sparkes said there were three main roles: maintaining a British presence in the Antarctic, carrying out surveys, and supporting the work of the British Antarctic Survey.

The vessel is at sea for 330 days a year. There are 95 crew posted to the vessel, two thirds are on board at any time with a third on leave – meaning there are normally about 57 or crew on board with a small detachment of Marines.

The vessel spends the Antarctic summer – from November to April – in the Southern Ocean but can also be called on for other non-combat operations like disaster relief in the Caribbean or going to the aid of stricken vessels.

Earlier this year its crew helped to deal with a fire at the Brazilian Antarctic base.

The conditions in the Southern Ocean are very tough with winds of 25knots every day and storms of 50 to 60 knots common – there have even been gusts of 80 knots.

Capt Sparkes said: “There are two types of crew members – those who will tell you they get seasick, and those who lie about it!”

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