Royal Navy's Antarctic Mission Shows Support for Ukraine

Image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Mar 6, 2022 1:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, Royal Navy sailors aboard the icebreaker HMS Protector showed solidarity with the people of Ukraine by calling on one of the nation’s most remote outposts. The Protector dropped in on 21 scientists who maintain the Ukrainian research station of Vernadsky in Antarctica to check on their welfare.

They found the team who run the base – ­some 9,000 miles from their motherland – had families trapped in Kharkiv and Kyiv as a result of the Russian invasion.

The landing party from Protector – Captain Michael Wood and ship’s doctor, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Alex Clarke, along with sailors and Royal Marines ­– delivered fresh food to the scientists, ensured they were in good health, and reassured them of the UK’s support for their nation’s cause.

The Ukrainian research base is located on Galindez Island off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was originally established as the British Antarctic Survey’s Faraday Station, but was transferred to Ukraine under an agreement between the British Antarctic Survey and the State Institution National Antarctic Scientific Centre of Ukraine in 1996.

The Ukrainian scientists conduct research of the Earth’s magnetic field, radio sounding of the ionosphere in the Southern Polar region, hydro-meteorological research, geophysical research of the lithosphere – the Earth’s crust and upper part of the mantle – and studies the ecology of the western Antarctic biosphere. Although the base operates all year round, its remote location means it is re-supplied infrequently, and with few staff vaccinated, it has operated under strict Covid-prevention protocols with regard to visitors. 

Protector is in the region to update nautical charts of Antarctic waters and support scientific studies into the Antarctic eco-system and the effects of climate change. It also carries out a routine series of goodwill visits to international bases under the peaceful purposes of the Antarctic Treaty – although ice conditions prevented her reaching the Ukrainian station until now.