6 June, 2020

Over the next few days, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research and support teams will return from Antarctica to UK after a 20-day sea voyage on board a charter ship and the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Clark Ross.

This homecoming is the end of an exceptional mission to repatriate scientists, support teams and construction workers who completed their Antarctic summer field season work in April and May.

The COVID-19 Pandemic disrupted all international air travel, including BAS normal routes through the Falklands and South America.  The only safe alternative was to bring staff and colleagues home by sea.

On Saturday 6 June, the MS Hebridean Sky expects to arrive at Portsmouth International Port around 7.00-8.00am.  On Tuesday 9 June, the BAS ship RRS James Clark Ross expects to arrive at Harwich Port.

The charter ship Hebridean Sky arrives back to the UK on Saturday 6 June after sailing from Antarctica. Credit: Noble Caledonian

BAS staff and construction teams, who worked at Rothera, Signy, Bird Island and King Edward Point Research Stations, will at last be reunited with families and friends – albeit under social distancing rules.

 Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway says:

“I am thrilled that British Antarctic Survey scientists, support teams and construction workers have arrived safely back in the UK and can reunite with their families and loved ones. Their work is remarkable in furthering our understanding and helping us tackle global warming.

“I would also like to thank BAS, the Falklands authorities, Noble Caledonia and the crew of MS Hebridean Sky who helped to repatriate BAS employees – a massive undertaking at an exceptional time.”

BAS Director Professor Dame Jane Francis says:

“This has been a huge logistical challenge for our operations experts.  I am so pleased that our people and colleagues can now return to their families.  I thank the Falkland Islands authorities for their assistance, and I am grateful to Noble Caledonia and the crew of MS Hebridean Sky for looking after our staff during their extended voyage home.  Well done to all BAS staff who have worked so hard in these exceptional conditions to bring everyone home safely.”

RRS James Clark Ross expects to arrive back in the UK (Harwich) on Tuesday 9 June. Credit: BAS

Noble Caledonia Head of Fleet Operations Mike Deegan says:

“We are delighted to have been able to assist British Antarctic Survey with the repatriation of their staff members who have been involved with vital scientific and research work down south. We were pleased to provide this service at no profit to ourselves in view of the extraordinary challenges faced by BAS.  Whilst the journey home this year was undoubtedly longer than usual, our crew members have worked hard to ensure a safe, healthy and comfortable transfer back to the UK”.

Rothera Station Leader Mike Brian who left Antarctica in early May and travelled back on the Hebridean Sky says:

“We are all very much looking forward to returning home and to being reunited with our loved ones. We are also wondering what life will be like in UK now, following the Covid-19 pandemic. It was concerning watching the situation develop from Antarctica.

“Personally, I would also like to thank those in BAS and Nobel Caledonia, particularly the crew of the MS Hebridean Sky, for the exceptional levels of work and care they shown in getting our team of 85 people home from Antarctica in the safest manner possible.”

Further information: 

On 7 April, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) announced exceptional plans to repatriate scientists, support teams and construction workers as they completed their Antarctic summer field season work.

Major disruption to international travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the virus, meant that BAS has had to find safe and secure solutions to bring its people home safely to the UK.

  • South American routes were unavailable. MoD flights, suspended when Cape Verde officials stopped access for refuelling, resumed through Senegal following actions by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and MoD.
  • Halley and Signy Research Stations are closed for the Antarctic winter.
  • Rothera, King Edward Point and Bird Island research stations are now ‘wintering’.
  • There are 85 ‘passengers’ on board the MS Hebridean Sky and 18 (including two BAS Medical Unit doctors) on the RRS James Clark Ross.

BAS chartered a passenger ship, moored off the Falkland Islands and operated by Noble Caledonia, to provide quarantined accommodation and transport for 85 science, support staff and a number of construction workers who were building a new wharf at Rothera Research Station for the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

BAS staff will return to find BAS Headquarters in Cambridge closed to all but a few laboratory and facilities staff, and most people working from home.