Royal Navy ships join forces in the Tees

HMS Enterprise enters dry dock at UK Docks Marine Services, Middlesbrough, alongside HMS Protector.

The Royal Navy’s presence on the River Tees doubled this week with HMS Enterprise safely docking next to HMS Protector – a rare sight which reinforced the value of the £150m, 10-year contract recently won by UK Docks.

The Tyneside-based company, which operates two dry docks out of Middlesbrough, won the contract to service the two vessels and HMS Enterprise’s sister ship HMS Echo last year.

But it will be an unusual sight to see more than one of the vessels on the Tees at the same time over the next decade – HMS Protector’s stay having been extended to eight months on this occasion for a major multi-million-pound refit.

HMS Protector is due to leave the port later this month in the wake of UK Docks’ comprehensive overhaul, which takes place every five years.

But for the next few weeks, the two military assets – alongside the dredger UKD Orca currently in dry dock – will make an eye-catching sight and underline the fact that despite Covid-19 and the challenges faced by the North Sea oil industry, UK Docks continues to fly the flag for the region’s ship repair industry.

UK Docks’ director Jonathan Wilson said: “It’s non-stop at the moment but we like it that way. We’re very proud of the job we’ve done on HMS Protector but we won’t have time to rest on our laurels with HMS Enterprise’s arrival this week.

“It’s a great sight though, to see the two together on the Tees and a feather in the cap for the region that this work is being done in the North-East and not elsewhere around the country or abroad.”

While HMS Enterprise is in for regular maintenance and check-up, the work on HMS Protector has been on a much greater scale as the navy’s only icebreaker enjoyed a significant upgrade costing £16m over the course of an eight-month stay.

A major part of the work involved a specialist ‘deep maintenance’ survey on the 90-metre vessel, carried out every five years – the equivalent of a comprehensive MOT – which identified numerous issues to tackle.

HMS Enterprise enters dry dock at UK Docks Marine Services, Middlesbrough, alongside HMS Protector.

A new module was installed which houses key machinery, boats and equipment and a 60-tonne crane removed, refurbished and refitted.

Specialist paintwork, from mast to keel, was carried out, restoring HMS Protector to its ship-shape best.

Beneath the waterline, there was a complete recoating of the ice-class underwater painting application which crucially helps the vessel deal with sub-zero polar temperatures.

There was also an upgrade to the ship’s electrical systems and the shore power supply system as well as hundreds of minor adjustments and improvements, including preparing the ship to carry unmanned survey devices.

UK Docks’ managing director Harry Wilson added: “It was one of the most comprehensive and ambitious overhauls that UK Docks has been involved in and it brought challenges, but I’m very proud of the way our team has delivered as planned and the important work will set HMS Protector in good stead for years to come.”

Captain Michael Wood, who commands HMS Protector, has watched the work being carried out with growing satisfaction ahead of the vessel’s departure to Antarctica later this month.

He said: “The refit has been a success and the hard work of UK Docks, who have continued to support us throughout lockdown, seven-days a week, has been very much appreciated.”