The immediate future of the Royal Navy’s ice patrol capability has been determined with the leasing of a commercial icebreaker from Norwegian offshore specialists, GC Rieber Shipping. MV Polarbjørn (2001/4,985gt) has been acquired for an interim three-year period, during which she will become the eighth HMS Protector, a name with historic links to the RN’s Antarctic commitment. Officially, the contract is a stop-gap measure, as the MoD considers the long-term future of HMS Endurance, herself an acquisition from Rieber as MV Polar Circle in 1991.
Although the navy has options to extend the lease for a further two years, or buy the vessel outright, Polarbjørn (Polar Bear) is not ideally suited for naval helicopter operations in her present configuration. Unless the helicopter deck above the bridge is removed and replaced with a flight deck and hangar facilities, or a more suitable vessel is found, the repair of HMS Endurance remains a distinct possibility.