First female captain takes over Royal Navy polar ship | Polarjournal
Newly appointed captain Maryla “Milly” Ingham proudly stands in front of her ship, HMS Protector. She is the first woman to command a Royal Navy ship with the rank of captain and will have command of 88 men and women on board with immediate effect. Image: HMS Protector via Twitter

For centuries, the Royal Navy has safeguarded and represented British interests at sea, including overseas territories in the southern polar regions. For this purpose, the British Navy has at its disposal a single ice-capable patrol, HMS Protector, a former Norwegian icebreaker. For the Royal Navy had also noticed that it needed ice-going ships. The tradition-steeped service has now taken another step in the spirit of the modern age by elevating a woman to the rank of captain for the first time in its history.

Effective immediately, Captain Maryla “Milly” Ingham will take command of the 5,000-ton HMS Protector. This was announced by the Royal Navy on 7 April. Ingham succeeds Captain Michael Wood, who took command of the British Navy’s only ice-capable patrol vessel in 2019. A native of South London, Captain Ingham joined the Royal Navy in 1999 and, after various deployments, became the first female navigator aboard the Royal Navy’s largest ship, the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, in 2013.

The importance of the appointment of the ship’s new captain is evident from the reactions on social media. For example, the First Sea Lord of the British Navy, Sir Ben Key KCB CBE ADC, congratulated the newly appointed captain on Twitter. Marine Reserve Commander Mel Robinson also congratulated Ingham on Twitter, calling the appointment a “monumental moment in Royal Navy history”. Ingham was previously the commanding officer of the minesweepers HMS Middleton and Brocklesby. Her appointment elevates her to the rank of senior officer.

PRECISION: It has been brought to our attention that the article needs clarification. Captain Maryla Ingham is not the first woman to hold the rank of Captain (NATO rank OF5), but is the first woman to be elevated to the rank of Captain AND command a major ship unit in the Royal Navy. According to the notice, in the Royal Navy only larger ship units such as carriers or destroyers 45 are commanded by a captain. Other units are led by a commanding officer. The HMS Protector has a special status in this respect due to the remoteness of the polar regions and is therefore commanded by a captain.
We apologize for any misunderstandings.

The Royal Navy overtook HMS Protector from Norway in 2011 and has since served in Antarctica with duties for supply, research and patrols in the Southern Ocean. Its home port is in Devonport. Image: Royal Navy under OGL

Command of HMS Protector will now take Ingham further south than she has probably been used to. This is because the ship, which was built in 2001, is used in the Southern Ocean to supply the British Antarctic stations, as well as for research and patrol missions. Originally used by Norway for Antarctic expeditions and as a working vessel in the Barents Sea, the Protector was taken over on loan by the Royal Navy in 2011 when its ice-patrol vessel, HMS Endurance, broke down. The British Ministry of Defense bought the ship and deployed it in Antarctica from then on. Its most important missions included assisting the Brazilian station that caught fire in 2012, helping to find the sunken Argentine submarine ARA San Juan in 2017, and a round-the-world trip in 2016. Currently, the Protector is on its way back after a successful Antarctic season, during which the ship had also visited Ukrainian station Vernadsky after the outbreak of war in their homeland and delivered supplies.

The ship is a total of 89 meters long, 18 meters wide and can sail up to 15 knots (28km/h). Its ice class DNV ICE-05 corresponds to the lowest icebreaker class for polar regions. The crew consists of 88 men and women and the propulsion is provided by two diesel engines with 4,700 hp each. In addition to two large cranes, the Protector also has a helicopter landing deck at the stern.

In addition to the ice-going Protector, the British Navy also has HMS Forth, another patrol ship in the South Atlantic that has been in service since 2020. Unlike the Protector, however, the Forth does not have an ice class and is therefore only suitable for sailing outside sea ice.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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