Chill­ing with the pen­guins in Antarc­tica

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Uk And World News - BY RACHAEL ATKINS

Sailors and Royal Marines aboard the Royal Navy’s ice ship HMS Pro­tec­tor have been get­ting to know the pen­guins of the Antarc­tic as they be­gin their sea­son sup­port­ing sci­en­tists study­ing the frozen con­ti­nent.

The Devon­port-based ice­breaker is on a five-year mis­sion to make Antarc­tic wa­ters safer for ships to nav­i­gate seas and to help our un­der­stand­ing of the unique icy en­vi­ron­ment.

She had to smash her way through ice to reach the Bri­tish Antarc­tic Sur­vey base at Port Lock­roy, lo­cated on an is­land off the Antarc­tic penin­sula around 900 miles from the Falk­lands.

The iso­lated base is home to the south­ern­most post of­fice in the world and an enor­mous colony of Gen­too pen­guins.

Pro­tec­tor’s crew off­loaded more than two and a half tonnes of sup­plies for the sci­en­tists – work which had to take place with­out dis­turb­ing the colony as the birds en­joy right of way at Port Lock­roy.

Mis­sion com­plete, Pro­tec­tor headed north for De­cep­tion Is­land, a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for all cruise ships op­er­at­ing around Antarc­tica: it’s the only ac­tive

vol­cano on the planet which you can sail into, with a nar­row gap for en­try and exit.

“It’s a truly breath­tak­ing lo­ca­tion – and a unique loc- ation for those on board,” said Cap­tain Marc Ro­driguesBer­net, an Army of­fi­cer who’s act­ing as Pro­tec­tor’s lin­guist/in­ter­preter.

“We spent two days en­cir­cled by a halo of vol­canic rock.”

A few of the ship’s com­pany went ashore for a walk on the black earth and en­counter the seal pop­u­la­tion – for some this was their first ex­pe­ri­ence of Antarc­tica – hy­dro­graphic ex­perts took nu­mer­ous read­ings and Pro­tec­tor’s dive team braved the cold to per­form a prac­tice plunge in near-sub-zero wa­ters.

“This is the fur­thest I have ever trav­elled from home and the snow and an­i­mals are ex­tremely pretty,” said sub lieu­tenant Han­nah Crow­son of the Pro­tec­tor ex­pe­ri­ence.

From De­cep­tion, the ship headed north via Ester Har­bour in the South Sand­wich Is­lands to Ele­phant Is­land, where leg­endary ex­plorer Ernest Shack­le­ton and his men shel­tered af­ter their ship En­deav­our was crushed in the ice in 1916.

To­day’s sailors and marines held prob­a­bly the most southerly act of re­mem­brance for those killed in the Great War, in par­tic­u­lar the three mem­bers of Shack­le­ton’s party who sur­vived their or­deal on the ice only to be killed serv­ing King and coun­try.

“Ev­ery one of the ship’s com­pany is aware of how for­tu­nate they are to be on this ship, car­ry­ing out ex­hil­a­rat­ing work in oth­er­wise­un­reach­able ar­eas, but that pales in com­par­i­son with the grat­i­tude we owe the World War One gen­er­a­tion,” Cap­tain Ro­drigues-Ber­net added.

Top, some of the crew of HMS Pro­tec­tor try to find safe pas­sage through the ice at Port Lock­roy; above from left, LPT David Clay­tonCharlesworth; friendly pen­guins; HMS Pro­tec­tor off the coast of Ele­phant Is­land

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