The Royal Navy has come to the aid of four British women working at an isolated Antarctic science base after its buildings were buried by heavy snow.
The sailors and Royal Marines from HMS Protector spent two days excavating the Port Lockroy site.
The damaged roof of Bransfield Hut, which houses a museum, gift shop and the world’s most remote post office, has been repaired.
The women beat out 6,000 applicants to run the base and share the island with a colony of gentoo penguins.
Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett and Lucy Bruzzone have accepted the task of reopening the site 9,000 miles from the UK in October following the coronavirus pandemic.
They were getting ready, assisted by three other workers who will leave shortly, in view of the southern summer – which falls between November and February in the southern hemisphere – when abundant snowfalls of between two and four meters high arrived.
HMS Protector’s team cleared several tons of snow and carried out temporary repairs.
The engineers say they used traditional methods of damage control on naval vessels using wooden posts and blocks to stabilize the structure.
The ice patrol vessel makes regular visits to international bases such as Port Lockroy on the frozen continent, delivering supplies and supporting scientific research from the UK and other nations.
Marshal 1st Class Lee ‘Rattler’ Morgan, who was part of the rescue party, said he was ‘taken aback’ by the ‘large amount of snow’, adding that the buildings ‘were nearly gone’.
“It’s good for the ship’s company to go ashore and help out. The sailors were all smiles and happy to be starting such a worthwhile task.”
Staff can now resume their five-month stint at Port Lockroy, a former whaling station which has become a tourist attraction visited by around 20,000 people during the summer season.
During their stay on site, the four have given up running water, flushing toilets, wifi and can only talk to their loved ones for 10 minutes a week.
But when asked to give up the comforts, the four said they couldn’t resist the opportunity to work on the island.
Mrs Corbett, charged with running the gift shop at the site museum, was a newlywed when she took on the role.
The 31-year-old from Hampshire called the trip a “solo honeymoon”.
“Who wouldn’t want to spend five months working on an island full of penguins in one of the most remote places on the planet?” she said.
Ms Ballantyne, from Lincolnshire, had just completed a masters degree in earth sciences at Oxford University.
The 23-year-old will process around 80,000 cards during her tenure, which are shipped from the site to more than 100 countries each year.
Ms Hilton, from Bo’ness, near Falkirk in Scotland, is a conservation scientist tasked with monitoring the number of Gentoo penguins living in the bay.
Ms Bruzzone, from London, who previously spent three months on Svalbard as lead scientist on an Arctic expedition, works as base leader, managing the team and coordinating all vessel visits to the island.