7 April, 2020 News stories

CAMBRIDGE: British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has announced exceptional plans to repatriate scientists, support teams and construction workers as they complete 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, has meant that BAS has had to find safe and secure solutions to bring its people home safely to the UK.

A passenger ship moored off the Falkland Islands and operated by Noble Caledonia, will provide temporary, quarantined accommodation for scientists and support staff while they wait to return home.  The ship will bring back to the UK around 90 science, support staff and a number of construction workers who have been building a new wharf for the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

As the summer field season ends, our Antarctic teams prepare themselves to return home to an extraordinary situation.  BAS Headquarters in Cambridge is closed and everyone is working from home.  Families and friends are complying with the UK Government’s requirement to stay-at- home and maintain social distancing.

BAS Director Professor Dame Jane Francis said,

“In a normal year, around 100 of our people leave Antarctica at the end of the summer field season.  They come home by ship or aircraft, stopping at the Falkland Islands to catch a MoD flight to Brize Norton, or transfer to South America for a commercial flight to UK.  However, in the last few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything and created a huge challenge for our logistics and operations experts.  I am very pleased that we can get our people home during the next few weeks and I am grateful to Noble Caledonia for making their ship available to us.

In spite of all of this, our Antarctic field season has been very successful.  Our deep-field and shipborne science programmes have generated new data that will help us understand the impacts of climate change and future sea-level rise.  Our new wharf is complete thanks to the efforts of our construction partner BAM and our programme management team.  Now, I wish all of our staff, research colleagues and contractors a safe journey home; I thank them – and their families – for their patience and cooperation during a very challenging repatriation operation.”

Noble Caledonia Head of Fleet Operations Mike Deegan said

“We are delighted to be 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 shall do everything in our power to return their staff safely, as swiftly as possible and in a quarantined environment to their families and loved ones”.

The RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) is currently at Rothera Research Station unloading supplies for the Antarctic winter. Once operations are complete Rothera summer team members will board the ship joining personnel who have been working at Signy, Bird Island and King Edward Point research stations who are already onboard.  The ship will transport people to the Falkland Islands to rendezvous with the charter ship and return to Rothera to bring any remaining summer staff north.


Notes for editors

  • South American routes are unavailable. MoD flights, suspended when Cape Verde officials stopped access for refuelling, have resumed following actions by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth and MoD
  • Halley and Signy Research Stations are closed for the Antarctic winter
  • Bird Island station is now ‘wintering’ with four members of staff on station
  • Rothera Research Station will operate during winter from 27 April when the Twin Otter aircraft and RRS James Clark Ross depart.  Then 28 members of staff will winter at the research station
  • The chartered ship is due to depart Falkland Islands on 3 May 2020. The voyage to UK takes about 20 days