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8 June, 2020 - 21:48 By News Desk

BAS staff come in from the cold after Antarctic vigil

After a three week journey more than 100 British Antarctic Survey staff have sailed home aboard the MS Hebridean Sky and RRS James Clark Ross to be reunited with their families, writes Jack Darch.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual routes from the Rothera and King Edward Point Antarctic research stations to the BAS headquarters in Cambridge were disrupted by highly restricted air travel from South America and the Falklands, leading BAS to send their summer staff home by sea.

Ministry of Defence flights, which often fly BAS staff from the Falklands, were no longer able to operate due to refuelling restrictions at Cape Verde, however flights have recently been resumed via Senegal: 103 staff from the Antarctic research and support team will return in total. Eighteen of them, including two BAS Medical Unit doctors, arrive at Harwich Port, Suffolk tomorrow (June 9) aboard the BAS operated RRS James Clark Ross while the remaining 85 staff were due to arrive at Portsmouth on June 6 aboard a charter ship operated by Noble Caledonia.

Mike Deegan, Head of Fleet Operations at Noble Caledonia, said: “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.”

The returning workers will have to adhere to social distancing rules and almost all BAS staff will remain working from home. 

Amanda Solloway, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research, and Innovation, said she was “thrilled that BAS scientists, support teams and construction workers have arrived safely back in the UK” and hailed “their remarkable work in furthering our understanding and helping us tackle global warming.”

Mike Brian, the Rothera Station leader who travelled back on the MS Hebridean Sky, added: “We have all been very much looking forward to returning home and to being reunited with our loved ones. 

“We have also been wondering what life would be like in the UK now, following the COVID-19 pandemic. It was concerning watching the situation develop from Antarctica.”

Two BAS stations will now be closed for the Antarctic winter.

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