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British Antarctic Territory – Royal Research Ships

Ahead of the launch next year of one of the most advanced polar research
vessels in the world – the RRS Sir David Attenborough – the British
Antarctic Territory brings to you a stamp set looking back at past and
present ships.

Ice-strengthened ships manned by experienced personnel have been a
cornerstone of the UK’s Antarctic operations since 1943. Initially, the
role of the ships was to establish bases and provide annual relief with
staff, supplies and mail, but they also opened up otherwise inaccessible
locations to scientific field parties. Ships officers have always
carried out a variety of hydrographic survey and sea ice observation
work to help with the demanding and at times dangerous task of
navigating in icy and poorly charted waters.

During Operation Tabarin (1943-1945), ship support was provided by the
Admiralty. Then, in 1947, the newly formed Falkland Islands Dependencies
Survey (FIDS) purchased its first vessel. New polar vessels have been
named either after previous polar ships or individuals associated with
polar exploration. The first ship (the MV Pretext) was renamed the MV
John Biscoe after the English 19th-century sea captain, John Biscoe

The FIDS scientific work was recognised in 1953 by the granting of Royal
Research Ship (RRS) status to FIDS (later British Antarctic Survey
(BAS)), vessels. In 1955 a second ship was bought, the RRS Shackleton.

The RRS Shackleton was in service with FIDS/BAS from 1955/56 until
1968/69. Her role was primarily that of a survey and science vessel,
supporting marine geophysics programmes. On 29 Nov 1957, having
completed the relief of Base H, Signy Island, the vessel was north of
Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, when she collided with heavy
pack ice and was holed in two places below the waterline. Number 2 hold
filled with water but using the ship’s pumps and temporary repairs she
was stabilised and, escorted by the whaling ship Southern Venturer and
HMS Protector, put into Stromness Bay, South Georgia, for repair.

From 1969, the Shackleton was operated by BAS’s parent body, NERC
(Natural Environment Research Council) as an oceanographic research
vessel carrying out geophysical and marine geology cruises in Antarctic
waters until being withdrawn from service in May 1983 and sold.

In 1956 the first purpose-built support vessel, RRS John Biscoe (2),
replaced her ageing namesake. Her maiden voyage included HRH Prince
Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, visiting some of the FIDS research
stations during the 1956/57 season.

Initially the RRS John Biscoe (2) operated as a cargo vessel to resupply
FIDS (later BAS) research stations. Increasingly she supported
hydrographic and marine biology surveys, and geological landings.
Following a major refit in 1979, her role became that of a platform for
marine science, particularly the Offshore Biology Programme.
Modifications included replacement of the main engines, new
laboratories, winches for sampling down to 3,000 metres, a gantry for
trawling and bow thruster to enable the ship to maintain station in
strong winds and currents. New instrumentation included a satellite
navigation system, echo-sounder and echo-integrator and
salinity-temperature-depth profiler. Her final voyage with BAS took
place during the 1990/91 season.

The John Biscoe‘s motor launch, sometimes referred to as the ‘Biscoe
Kid’, was transferred to the RRS James Clark Ross and continued to be
used until around 2002. She later took part in the Queen’s Diamond
Jubilee Thames Pageant on 3 Jun 2012.

Charter vessels continued to be used as required until 1970, when the
newly built RRS Bransfield replaced the RRS Shackleton. The RRS
Bransfield was an ice-strengthened cargo vessel, purpose-built for
operation by BAS. The Bransfield was BAS’s main supply vessel from
1970/71-1998/99, and also had limited facilities for on-board research.
She represented NERC in the Review of the Fleet at Spithead in 1977,
held to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

She was named after Edward Bransfield, Royal Navy (1785-1852), a British
Explorer who made significant discoveries around the Antarctic Peninsula.

In 1991 the RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) became the first BAS vessel to be
purpose-built as a science platform. Launched by HM the Queen in 1990,
she is primarily a marine research vessel for biological, oceanographic
and geophysical cruises. She is equipped with a suite of laboratories
and winch systems that allows scientific equipment to be deployed astern
or amidships. The ship has an extremely low noise signature, allowing
the deployment of sensitive acoustic equipment. A swath bathymetry
system was fitted in 2000. The JCR also carries out some cargo and
logistical work. During the northern summer the JCR supports NERC
research, largely in the Arctic.

The RRS James Clark Ross was named after Admiral Sir James Clark Ross,
R.N. The vessel can steam at a steady two knots through level sea ice
one metre thick. To assist passage through heavy pack ice a compressed
air system rolls the ship from side to side freeing the passage.

When RRS Bransfield was sold in 1999, logistical support was taken up by
RRS Ernest Shackleton, operated by BAS on a long-term charter. Launched
in 1995 the vessel is ice strengthened and capable of a wide range of
logistic tasks as well as having a scientific capability. During the
northern summer she is commercially chartered and usually works in the
North Sea. As was her predecessor, the RRS Ernest Shackleton was named
after the famed polar explorer.

In the future the functions of both current BAS ships (RRS James Clark
Ross and the RRS Ernest Shackleton) will be combined in the new NERC
polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, due for launch in
late 2018.

Artworks based on photographs from the British Antarctic Survey Archives

Technical details:

Artist Andrew Robinson

Printer Cartor Security Printing

Process Lithography

Perforation 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms

Stamp size 42 x 28mm

Sheet Layout 10

Release date Expected mid-November 2017

Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd

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