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Protector sailors tackle killer blaze at Antarctic base
27 February 2012

Sailors from ice patrol ship HMS Protector tackled a ferocious fire which raged through a Brazilian research base.

Two dozen crew from the research and survey vessel helped out when the blaze engulfed the Ferraz research station on King George Island in the South Sandwich Islands.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare, HMS Protector

THESE are the smouldering remains of Research Station Ferraz, a remote Brazilian base ravaged by fire.

Sailors from Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Protector fought for hours to tackle the blaze which claimed the lives of two of the base’s personnel.

Twenty-three sailors from the Portsmouth-based survey ship responded to an urgent call for help after the base caught fire on King George Island in the South Shetland Islands.

They arrived after the survivors – mainly Brazilian military and scientific personnel – had been evacuated and set about extinguishing the fire which was still raging.

Protector’s crew used the ship’s small boats to land vehicles and equipment.

The work boat Terra Nova landed a quad bike and trailer so portable pumping and fire fighting equipment could be moved around the base.

Operations ashore at the remote site were co-ordinated by Protector’s executive officer, Commander Don Mackinnon, working with Chilean and Brazilian Naval personnel.

Capt Peter Sparkes, the commanding officer of HMS Protector, said: “This was a tragic incident, which resulted in the death of two people and the injury of many more; our thoughts and prayers are with the Brazilian Navy’s Antarctic Service and their families.

“I am pleased that Protector afforded valuable and timely support during this incident.

“This is what the Royal Navy is trained to do, and do well.”

HMS Protector has been in Antarctica on patrol this year, during which time she has visited several research stations in the region. 

Ferraz base is able to support 65 personnel during the southern hemisphere summer months, most of whom are scientists conducting geological, bio-diversity and meteorological research.

During the southern winter the base shrinks to just 15 permanent Brazilian Navy staff.

The mainly Brazilian scientists are supported by a small number of Argentinean and Chilean, academics who conduct research into the impact of human activity in the Antarctic through research into the local bird, fish and algae populations.

The station is supported by two Brazilian Navy Antarctic patrol ships.