Today’s Portsmouth News contains an unconfirmed report that the Royal Navy is looking to replace the stricken Ice Patrol Ship HMS Endurance with a Norwegian Icebreaker for next years South Atlantic Patrol. Endurance, one of the most famous and recognisable ships in the Royal Navy, almost sank in 2008 when her engine room flooded. She has been laid up in Portsmouth since arriving back in the UK in early 2009, whilst the Navy and the Ministry of the Defence decide what to do with her.
During 2010 HMS Scott, an ocean-going survey vessel, deployed to the South Atlantic. This is not seen as a long-term solution, as she has no icebreaking capability and cannot operate helicopters in the same manner as Endurance. Also, she has her own duties to attend to. Militarily, the case for a South Atlantic Patrol Ship is not a priority for the Navy itself, but politically it would be seen as a major sign of weakness if the UK were to withdraw such a presence in the region. Earlier this year Argentina attempted to garner support from fellow South American countries for its stance over the Falklands. A proposed cut to the previous HMS Endurance precipitated the 1982 war.
With the current HMS Endurance laid up in Portsmouth and needing repairs believed to run into millions of pounds, it is likely that the Navy will seek to lease an existing icebreaker, probably from a Scandinavian source. This has been done in the past, when in 1967 the Navy purchased the MV Anita Dan from a Danish shipping line and renamed her HMS Endurance, and in 1991 when the Norwegian MV Polar Circle was chartered for eight months. She was later purchased outright and became second HMS Endurance. Leasing a ship before purchase enables the Navy to evaluate its suitability, especially for service in the ice. Any merchant vessel, however, will need to be adapted to Naval damage control standards, and will have to be able to operate helicopters.
Officially nothing has been decided, and it is likely that an announcement will come as part of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Defence Review.