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HMS Endurance III (Ex- Polar Circle)
Ice Patrol Ship [IPS]

HMS Endurance served as the Royal Navy ice patrol ship between 1991 and 2008. Originally built in Norway and named MV Polar Circle, the vessel was chartered by the Royal Navy in 1991 as HMS Polar Circle. The icebreaker was renamed HMS Endurance in 1992 when the ship was purchased outright by British Government. This move was welcomed by all those on the Falkland Islands as a firm indication of the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to their future security and welfare; as Lord Shackleton had done so much over so many years to represent the interests of the islanders.

She was named after the vessel Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed when he attempted to traverse the Antarctic continent between 1914 and 1917. Shackleton's Endurance was crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea during his 1914–1915 Antarctic expedition. HMS Endurance (1967), pennant number A171, served as the British Antarctic ice patrol vessel from 1967 to 1991. HMS Endurance (1991), also pennant number A171, was a class 1A1 icebreaker in service between 1991 and 2008 as the replacement for the first HMS Endurance.

Her Mission was "To patrol and survey the Antarctic and South Atlantic, maintaining Sovereign Presence with Defence Diplomacy and supporting the global community of Antarctica". This involves close links with the Foreign Office, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and the British Antarctic Survey. She deployed annually to the Antarctic, her operating area for 7 months of the year. Her base port was Portsmouth, which was also the ship's affiliated town.

Endurance displaced 6,600 tons and was approximately 91 meters long with a breadth of 17.9 meters and an 8.5 meter draft. She had a speed of 15 knots, a complement of 116 and usually carries a contingent of Royal Marines. Officially classed as an Icebreaker, her strengthened bow can break one metre thick ice at a speed of 3 knots. She has a flight deck and hanger and carries a Lynx helicopter. HMS Endurance was propelled by 2 diesel engines, producing over 8000 shaft horse power. That's about the equivalent of 100 small family cars combined. With her fuel tanks full to the brim of 1,200 cubic metres, that's 1,200,000 litres, she can travel an impressive 24,600 nautical miles. Enough to comfortably get all round the world, but it would take over 12 weeks.

HMS "Endurance" deployed on an annual basis, usually between October to May the following year, to the South Atlantic and Antarctic regions during the austral summer. She was a unique ship of the Royal Navy in that she had three main roles. Her primary role was to provide a presence in the British Antarctic Territory and United Kingdom Overseas Territories in the region reinforcing British interests and supporting Foreign Office objectives.

"Endurance" also undertook a program of hydrographic and oceanographic survey work, in support of safety of navigation, during her deployment. The information gathered was processed by the UK Hydrographic Office and drawn into charts that are used by mariners around the world.

Her other role was to support the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in carrying out its scientific research programs. The UK Antarctic survey program was the most extensive in the area in waters that are still largely uncharted. HMS ENDURANCE has a close working relationship with the British Antarctic Survey. While there was no official agreement between the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey, support to British Antarctic Survey science was given as one of the three tasks in the mission statement of HMS ENDURANCE. Whilst in Antarctica, approximately one third of HMS ENDURANCE's time was spent in support of British Antarctic Survey science, including the Antarctic Funding Initiative. This role was crucial to British Antarctic Survey science, particularly the helicopter capability.

In addition, "Endurance" also contributed to the Defence Diplomacy Mission by undertaking a series of port visits in the region. The primary function of the vessel was not sea rescue, although it performed that responsibility when in the vicinity. The ship had never been in the area for 12 months of the year, but the Navy appreciated the importance of having a presence there.

In 2006 HMS Endurance developed a rudder defect which required repair in dry dock for a short period before the ship could continue her operational programme. The work was being undertaken in the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base in Argentina, which was the nearest dry dock with the requisite facilities. By 2008 “Endurance” was not planned to go out of service until 2015. As that time approached, the Government would have to consider what to do about a replacement. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence discussed who should take prime responsibility for funding this kind of exercise, given that the ship’s primary purpose was the sovereign presence in the area. Important discussions are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty and submissions to the United Nations were made on possible future expansion. Britain was very well aware of the importance of having a presence in this region.

The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands are very keen that either HMS "Endurance" or a ship of similar calibre should be in the South Atlantic. Reports that “Endurance” was to be withdrawn in 1982 immediately led to serious misunderstandings on the part of the Argentine Government that Her Majesty’s Government were no longer prepared to defend the Falkland Islands. If the Government were ever to decide — presumably they would have to at some point — to withdraw “Endurance”, it would be important for explanations to be given, through diplomatic channels, to the Argentine Government that Britain was to continue to defend the islands.

A serious incident arose on 16 December 2008 through the changing of seawater filters while the ship was under way in the Magellan Straits off the Chilean coast, rather than in dry dock or shallows. "Endurance" had her annual maintenance at Simon's Town in South Africa rather than, as was normal practice, in the United Kingdom. The difficulty arose during routine cleaning of freshwater filters. A seawater valve was changed and that the crew could not close it properly, which led to water coming into the engine room and elsewhere on the boat. Therefore, it was decided to isolate the engine room to prevent further water from coming on board. As a result, the ship lost propulsion. A Chilean naval vessel and helicopter went to the rescue of the "Endurance" along with the Norwegian cruise ship.

HMS "Endurance" returned in April 2009 aboard the heavy lift vessel MV "Target". The cost to the Department of returning her to the United Kingdom was approximately £4.3 million. Subject to a detailed survey, the intention was that the ship will be repaired prior to her return to service. The vessel was due for two sessions of repair and serious maintenance between May and October 2009 and between May and October 2010. It was hoped that those two costs, which are already in the budget, will go a long way towards meeting the cost of the repair to the damage.

HMS Endurance normally undertakes her duties in the austral summer so this year's patrol has, through force of circumstance, been curtailed. Operational deployments are continually weighed against defence responsibilities around the world. Her Majesty's Government are aware of the strategic value of sovereign presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctic regions. A number of options are under consideration but it was not clear how long the repairs to HMS Endurance will take.

Repairs were estimated at £30 million. The decision on the future of HMS Endurance was expected to be taken in mid 2011, following the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Ministry of Defence was currently reviewing options for the optimum provision of the ice patrol capability in the interim period. Options for restoring our Ice Patrol capability were being examined and no final decisions on whether to repair or replace HMS Endurance have yet been taken.

"Endurance" was not planned to go out of service until 2015. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence have discussed who should take prime responsibility for funding this kind of exercise, given that the ship's primary purpose was the sovereign presence in the area.

In 2013, the Royal Navy announced that HMS Endurance would be sold for scrap as it was not “economically viable” to repair the damage sustained in 2008. The Royal Navy icebreaker, affectionately known as Red Plum, left Portsmouth harbour for the last time in June 2016. The vessel sailed to the Leyal Ship Recycling Centre in Turkey where it was scrapped. This was the same scrapyard that bought the Ark Royal aircraft carrier.

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Page last modified: 30-09-2021 18:41:45 ZULU