HMS Endurance To Be Replaced

The Antarctic ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance will be replaced with a Norwegian ship that will be called HMS Protector, Defence Minister Lord Astor of Hever said today.

The new ship is expected to be leased for an initial period of three years and follows the near-sinking of HMS Endurance in 2008.

An investigation found the ship was flooded following a maintenance error off the coast of Chile.

Lord Astor said HMS Protector would "provide the interim replacement ice patrol ship capability" while the long-term future of HMS Endurance was considered.

He said at question time that a contract for the ship's lease and support was expected to be signed soon with GC Rieber Shipping, which is the Government's preferred bidder.

"The intention is to lease MV Polarbjorn, a Norwegian ice patrol ship for an initial period of three years," he said in reply to a question from Tory peer Baroness Hooper.

"She will arrive in Portsmouth in May, where she will be fitted with specialist military equipment for her deployment."

Lord Tunnicliffe, for Labour, said that the task was currently being carried out by HMS Scott.

"Surely this is not a satisfactory period since Scott is not an ice breaker, does not carry helicopters and is not armed," he said.

Lord Astor replied: "HMS Scott is not an ice breaker and she was only able to undertake operations in areas that were clear of ice risk."

He said it had not yet been determined whether the long-term solution would be "better met through replacing or repairing HMS Endurance".

In reply to Tory Lord Naseby, Lord Astor said the matter of HMS Endurance was a "separate issue from that of the security of the Falkland Islands".

He added: "The permanent maritime presence in the Falklands is provided by HMS Clyde, the Falkland Islands' patrol vessel.

"The commander of British forces in the Falklands also has at his disposal either a frigate or a destroyer supported by a tanker."

But former head of the Royal Navy Lord West of Spithead said:

"I have to take issue with you on this. The Endurance is a key part of that. Indeed, 29 years ago almost to the day we had a bunch of scrap metal dealers going on to some of the Antarctic territories and therefore to think of it as not part of a cohesive package for that region is very wrong."

The Labour peer added: "I'm very glad the ship is being replaced. It is important it has the right facilities. It makes sense to look at the options in the future, so I have no difficulty with that."

Lord Astor said the situation was now "very far removed from that of the early 1980s". He added: "First we maintain a far more robust and capable force in the Falklands to act as a deterrent to secure our interest.

"That force is able to be reinforced as the need arises.

"Secondly Argentina is no longer ruled by a military junta that is oppressive at home and aggressive abroad. Of course, we maintain robust contingency plans for times of crisis and there is no question of our resolve to defend the Falklands whenever required and from whatever quarter."