30 April, 2019

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) celebrates the achievements of the RRS Ernest Shackleton. After 20 years of polar duties for BAS, she has been returned to her owners, Norwegian shipping company G C Rieber, today (30 April).

The RRS Ernest Shackleton first set sail with BAS in October 1999. Originally registered as the Polar Queen, the vessel was officially renamed the RRS Ernest Shackleton in May 2000 by the Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of the famous polar explorer.

Since then, she has faithfully supported both science and logistics during the Antarctic summer season (October – May).  When not in Antarctica the ship was chartered back to Rieber for commercial work. This contract made full utilisation of the ship and brought in over £20 million, which has been used to support BAS science.

In addition to re-supplying our five Antarctic stations, some major highlights during the RRS Ernest Shackleton’s long-standing service with BAS include:

  • December 2018: Working alongside HMS Protector, travelling through over 300 miles of sea ice, to deliver essential cargo for the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. This delivery of over 600 tonnes of equipment, machinery and supplies will support a team of around 100 scientists who seek to understand a glacier the size of Great Britain.
  • November 2012/December 2014: Transporting a team of scientists, helicopter pilots, chefs and engineers, three helicopters and shipping containers full of food and equipment to facilitate the South Georgia rat eradication programme led by University of Dundee and South Georgia Heritage Trust.
  • April 2012: Delivering three of the four containerised laboratories for Gerritsz Laboratory at Rothera Research Station.
  • February 2012: Landing the tractor train and all its fuel on Abbott Ice Shelf to support the iSTAR programme. This innovative system allows science and support teams to live and work in remote areas, using a combination of vehicles, sledges and living accommodation. The delivery of this equipment was crucial to the project’s success.
  • January 2011: Supporting a three-month field expedition on James Ross Island, which lies just off the Antarctic Peninsula. The expedition, led by University of Leeds and University of Aberystwyth, aimed to uncover information about how the glaciers and ice sheets of the north-eastern Antarctic Peninsula behaved in past climates, and what we could expect in the future.
  • 2011: Critical role supporting the build of Halley VI, making several deliveries of building materials and provisions.
  • Removal of several abandoned bases from Prospect Point and Deception Island

The Ernest Shackleton gave BAS many years of excellent service in the extreme conditions of the Antarctic. Over those years, she was home to many BAS crew and support staff who have particularly fond memories of their time aboard her. She will be missed by everyone but the time has come for her to return to her owners, as we prepare for the UK’s new polar ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

The RRS Ernest Shackleton during her last Antarctic port call – King Edward Point (8 March 2019). Photo credit: John Dickens.