WITH holes clearly visible in her hull, HMS Illustrious returned to Portsmouth yesterday following an accident with a tug boat.
Crowds gathered at the Round Tower to see the warship, affectionately known as Lusty, sail in sporting two scars on her hull.
The Royal Navy recalled the aircraft carrier from operations in Norway after the incident with the tug, which happened on March 9 while she was berthed in the Norwegian port of Harstad.
The 22,000-tonne carrier was due to return home later this month after an eight-week deployment to train with other Nato warships in the Arctic Circle.
Among those there for her premature return was Jenn Miles, 33, of Gibraltar Road, Eastney.
She was happy to wave in the ship, along with her three children Anthony, 11, Holly, 10 and Kiera, six.
Her husband Simon, 34, was serving on board as a medic.
She said: ‘I’m really pleased the ship is back a week early.
‘I hadn’t told the kids why we were at the Round Tower, so it was a surprise for them to see their dad is back earlier.’
And Debra Hamilton, of Rosebery Avenue, Cosham, was looking forward to seeing her son James Regnard, 23, who works as a chef.
The 51-year-old said: ‘James went away at the beginning of March so I wasn’t expecting him back so early.
‘One of the advantages of living here is you get to see the ships come in, so I always like to come when I can.’
Lusty will now be repaired at Portsmouth’s naval base, but it is not known how long it will take to fix the 30-year-old vessel. An investigation is due to take place to find out how the accident happened.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘Illustrious is returning to complete the repair of two small holes caused when one of four tugs came into contact with the ship’s starboard quarter while assisting her to berth. An investigation is being conducted.
‘The holes are well above the waterline and do not affect her seaworthiness or safety.
‘Initial repairs were carried out by the ship’s engineers and while she could have continued to participate in Exercise Cold Response, the decision was taken to return her to Portsmouth.’