For the first time in 80 years a British Navy ship will patrol the Ross Sea, with HMS Protector setting out to target Antarctic toothfish poachers.
The icebreaker, which usually works on the British-owned Antarctic Peninsula, has docked in Hobart ahead of a month-long patrol of the Ross Sea.
The ship’s captain, Rory Bryan, hopes the venture will deter illegal fishing operations.
“Our key role is going to be the maintenance of what is known as CCAMLR – which is the fishery protection role in Antarctica – and we’re going to be helping the Australians, in effect, police those waters,” he said.
The region has traditionally been patrolled by vessels from Australia and New Zealand, but under the Antarctic Treaty, Commonwealth powers are combining to crack down on illegal fishing.
Formerly a commercial ship, the Protector and its 75 crew, which includes a boarding party of marines, will have the power to board and inspect boats.
“If they’re not correct in any way, shape or form, we will clearly report them and make sure that they don’t do the illegal fishing again,” Captain Bryan said.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) welcomed the assistance, saying it was the latest in a string of cooperative projects.
And there are hopes the increased presence in toothfish waters can put a stop to the practice completely.
“Efforts have been made by a number of nations, the UK and Australia foremost among those, and this is another big step in that,” AAD director Nick Gales said.
“It’s keeping it down at low levels, now, and it’s important to keep up that pressure on the illegal fishers.”
No underestimating the challenge of the Ross Sea
Protector’s crew members are not underestimating the challenge presented by the Ross Sea.
“It’s very unpleasant weather, the ice is very thick,” Captain Bryan said.
“Protector is an icebreaker which can go through half a metre of ice at eight knots. She’s very capable and well built for those areas.”
Meteorologist Sam Brown said the conditions would be a constant battle.
“Winds are already going up to 65, 70 knots, which is almost classed as hurricane force,” he said.
The Protector will set sail from Hobart mid-December.