Hecla-class survey vessel

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SAS Protea.jpg
SAS Protea at Cape Town in 2011
Class overview
Operators:  Royal Navy South African Navy
Cost: £1.25 million
In commission: UK: 1966-2001; South Africa: 1972-present
Completed: 5
Active: 1
Retired: 4
General characteristics
Type: Deep ocean hydrographic survey vessel
Displacement: 2,800 tons (originally 2,733 tons)
Length: 260 ft (79 m)
Beam: 50 ft (15 m)
Draught: 16 ft (4.9 m)
  • 3 × Paxman Ventura 12YJCZ 12-cylinder turbo-charged diesel-electric engines for the 2,000 shaft horsepower main propulsion
  • 2 × Paxman 6YJXZ auxiliary engines
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h)
Range: 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km)
Boats & landing
craft carried:
  • 2 × 31 ft (9.4 m) surveying motor boats (SMB)
  • 1 × 18 ft (5.5 m) SMB
Complement: Generally a Commander (X)(H) in command (though sometimes a Captain RN), with 12-15 officers and 104-106 ratings, 1 NAAFI canteen manager, 1 laundryman
Aircraft carried: 1 × Westland Wasp helicopter from 829 Naval Air Squadron
Aviation facilities:
  • Hangar, aft
  • Flight deck recognition letters were HD (Hydra), HE (Herald), HL (Hecla), HT (Hecate)
Notes: 1 × Land Rover (with garage, forward)

The Hecla class formed the backbone of the Royal Navy's ocean survey fleet from the mid-1960s.


The hull design was based on that of the RRS Discovery and the Hecla class were built to commercial standards costing £1.25 million each. They carried two small survey craft, a launch, a Land Rover and a Wasp helicopter, for which there was a flight deck and hangar.

Special modifications[edit]

Besides the strengthened hull for work in ice and the provision of air conditioning necessary for work in all climates, they had modifications particular for a scientific vessel: wet and dry laboratories; a survey chartroom and photographic darkroom; oceanographic winches for deep seawater analysis and coring; stabilisers and a bow thruster, which enabled the ship to maintain her position when stopped for scientific observations.

Ships in class[edit]

Name Pennant No Builder Commissiond Status
HMS Hecla A133 Blythswood 1964
HMS Hecate A137
HMS Hydra A144
HMS Herald H138
SAS Protea A324 Active (2013)


The first three ships, HMS Hecla, HMS Hecate and HMS Hydra, were ordered in the early 1960s to replace the aging survey ships HMS Scott and HMS Shackleton.

A fourth ship, HMS Herald was ordered in the early 1970s. Apart from HMS Hecate, they all saw service as hospital ships in the Falklands War, while Herald also served in the Gulf War and as a temporary Antarctic Patrol Ship in 1991 and 1992. Hecate saw service as the temporary Antarctic Patrol Ship in 1982 after being painted grey and fitted with AA guns in Gibraltar. Hecate was the first Royal Navy vessel to visit South America following the Falklands conflict.

A fifth Hecla-class vessel, SAS Protea (A324) was ordered by the South African Navy and commissioned on 23 May 1972. As of 2013, Protea remains in service.[1]

Hydra was sold to Indonesia in 1986 and renamed Dewa Kembar; Hecate decommissioned in 1990 and was broken up, while Hecla was paid off in 1997 and sold to an Irish private company, to be replaced by HMS Scott. Herald was finally decommissioned in 2001, and was replaced the same year by HMS Echo.


The first three ships in the class were named for the three paddle-wheel Hydra-class sloops, two of which (Hydra and Hecate) were fitted out as survey ships from around 1860.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fact file: Hecla (Protea)-class hydrographic vessel". DefenceWeb.za. Retrieved 2013-12-06.