Ark Royal leaves Portsmouth for the last time

Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson. Pictute: LPhot Ioan Roberts

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HUNDREDS of people today watched the former Royal Navy flagship Ark Royal leave the city for the final time.

Hundreds of her former crew members, and people who remember her long history of service, gathered at the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth today before her departure shortly after 1pm.

HMS Ark Royal leaves Portsmouth for the last time

HMS Ark Royal leaves Portsmouth for the last time

Many onlookers wore black arm bands to mark the occasion.

The aircraft carrier is being towed to Turkey for scrap.

She was decommissioned following the 2010 defence review which also saw the UK’s Harriers sold to the US.

Now she is headed for Izmir, as part of a £2.9m with ship recycling firm Leyal.

Plans to keep Ark Royal in use included turning her into an artificial diving reef, a commercial heliport or a casino.

But ultimately the government decided to sell the 22,000-tonne carrier to Leyal.

During her service, HMS Ark Royal was deployed to the Adriatic during the Bosnian war and was stationed in the Persian Gulf during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

At every turn, people in Portsmouth have turned out in droves to witness Ark Royal’s final moments, from the day of her final homecoming to a march by sailors.

In the background, defence experts questioned whether the decision could be unmade, and the First Sea Lord himself said the government had taken ‘a punt’ on Britain’s national security.

A statement from the Ministry of Defence issued today said: ‘Ark Royal, like her sister ships, served this country with great distinction.

‘Retiring her five years earlier than planned was a difficult decision but it was the right one that, combined with her sale, has saved over £100m.’

Photographs in our In Pictures package are by staff photographers Malcolm Wells and Allan Hutchings, News reader Tony Hicks and, via Twitter, the Aspex Gallery, Dave Swateridge, Sally Scott and Matthew William Webb.

‘Let’s focus on Ark Royal’s triumphs’, says former captain and Second Sea Lord. To read the interview click here.