Warship was sold to ship recycling firm Leyal for £2.9m and will be taken 2,000 miles to Turkey.
It led forces during the Iraq war invasion in 2003 and saw active service in Bosnia, but it was scrapped by the Coalition in the 2010 Defence Review.
HMS Ark Royal cost £320million to build in 1981 and served her country for 30 years. Plans to turn the ship into a museum, heliport, nightclub, school or casino fell by the wayside. Just for a moment, she still looked so proud.The sun broke through briefly to illuminate her in the water, maintaining that air of might and majesty that only Britain’s most famous warship could boast. Yet this was the saddest day in the illustrious life of HMS Ark Royal. Her deck was stripped bare of aircraft and her hull was streaked with years of rust and neglect.
After more than a quarter of a century of service, the aircraft carrier – the fifth Royal Navy ship to bear a name that dates back to the days of victory over the Spanish Armada – began her final, solemn journey to the scrapyard.
She wasn’t even allowed the romantic privilege of sailing into the sunset at the 30 knots she was capable of. Instead, tugs hauled her slowly out of Portsmouth harbour towards her last resting place in Turkey.The ultimate indignity is still to come. Soon, she will be broken up and recycled to make razor blades and tin cans.
No wonder former crewmen wore black armbands on the dockside. No wonder there were more tears than cheers from the hundreds who gathered, like mourners, to say their farewell.Once, they would have assembled here as ‘the mighty Ark’ returned from war to a ‘welcome home’ celebration with splendid military pomp.
Most stood in silence or simply waved Union Flags as the 22,000-ton ship came into view, and went.The most miserable epitaph for Ark Royal and what’s left of the Royal Navy is that her decommissioning and sale to a foreign country for £2.9million was claimed by defence bosses yesterday to have saved taxpayers more than £100million.
The ship, which carried 22 aircraft and had a complement of 1,051, was retired five years ahead of schedule in 2011, a high-profile casualty of the government’s controversial defence review.
There was outrage at the prospect of selling the ship online, with plans to turn her into a casino in Hong Kong, a floating hospital or a commercial diving wreck all rejected. Destiny, however, sent her on the same 2,000-mile journey her sister ship made two years ago. HMS Invincible, heroine of the Falklands war, also went for scrap.
Among those lining Portsmouth’s old harbour yesterday was John Mayer, a stores assistant who was one of the first to serve on board after she was launched in 1981 at a cost of £320million.
‘It’s a very emotional day,’ he said.
Steve Higgins, a former Ark Royal petty officer, said the memories will ‘remain for ever’. ‘To the last, she showed the character of a proper lady of the seas,’ he added.
When the HMS Ark Royal was launched in June 1981, it was the fifth great British warship to bear the famous name.The Ark Royal was originally the name given to a ship ordered for Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586. It was involved in the battles against the Spanish Armada, and served for more than 50 years.
That first ship was eventually broken up in 1638, and it was almost 300 years before another vessel bore the same name.The second HMS Ark Royal, launched in 1914, was the first ship designed to carry aircraft in history. The 7,080 ton ship bore little resemblance to her 800 ton 16th century predecessor. But like her namesake she served her country with distinction and was used in both World Wars.The Ark Royal was launched in 1937 but came to a watery end in 1941 when sunk by a German U-boat. The fourth Ark Royal was launched in 1950 before being scrapped in 1979 and replaced by the current one in 1981.
The present Ark Royal was built by Swan Hunters Ship Builders’ yard at Wallsend in 1978 and launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. She was accepted into service on July 1, 1985
Source Daily Mail