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17 October 2013, 06:38
Families have waved off their loved ones on board the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship as it set off on deployment to the frozen continent of Antarctica.
The 5,000-tonne HMS Protector sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base for the last time as the survey ship will change base to Devonport when it completes its double deployment in the spring of 2015. The crew will be rotated during the vessel's time at sea.
It is the ship's first deployment since it was bought last month by the Ministry of Defence from GC Rieber Shipping, from which it had previously been leased.
Protector replaces HMS Endurance, which the MoD recently announced would be scrapped after it became flooded off Chile in 2008 because of a faulty valve. Repairing the ship, known as Red Plum, was deemed to be uneconomical.
Leading hand David Roach came to the Round Tower, Old Portsmouth, along with children Max, six, and Anya and Molly, four, to wave off his wife, medical assistant Kirsty Roach, 28, who was onboard Protector.
The 30-year-old from Gosport, Hampshire, said: "It's her first time away and I'm proud of her but she is nervous being away from the kids.
"It is a role reversal - it's going to be more of a challenge looking after three children than being on the ship.''
Sue and John Snelling, from Sittingbourne, Kent, also waved off their daughter, Holli, 23, who is a hydrography, meteorology and oceanography (HM) officer on Protector.
Mrs Snelling said: "I am extremely proud but terribly emotional, it's what she has always wanted to do, she's doing some fascinating work.
"The hardest part is the communication, knowing we won't be able to be in contact all the time.''
During Protector's deployment, it will be conducting surveys and patrols on behalf of the UK Hydrographic Office, British Antarctic Survey and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
An RN spokesman said that one of Protector's key tasks would be to ensure that the countries signed up to the Antarctic Treaty were meeting their obligations and adhering to strict environmental guidelines.
Inspection teams led by the FCO - supported by the British Antarctic Survey and observers from Protector's ship's company - will visit research bases, scientific stations, logistic bases and cruise liners.
He said the ship's team of four divers would also be gathering underwater data and the vessel would be used to collect imagery as part of Protector's role in surveying the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Together with data from the ship's multi-beam echo sounder, the information is used by the UK Hydrographic Office to update navigational charts to improve the safety of other ships and mariners using the waters, the spokesman said.
Captain Rhett Hatcher, Protector's commanding officer, said: "The ship's company have worked incredibly hard in training and preparation over the summer.
"We have installed a number of equipment upgrades and improvements and having completed operational sea training we are now ready for the challenges of the planned double deployment.
"Experienced members of the crew and new ones alike are very much looking forward to this deployment and proudly flying the White Ensign and the Union Flag around the Antarctic territories and the region.''
A small detachment of Royal Marines, responsible for escorting all Protector's personnel whenever they go ashore in the Antarctic, will also be on board the ship. They also provide ship personnel with specialist cold weather training, the spokesman said.
Protector will officially change its home port to Devonport on April 1 next year where it will be based along with the Navy's other survey ships at the new Hydrography and Meteorology Centre of Specialisation.