THE Ministry of Defence has sold three Type 42 destroyers to be scrapped, The News can reveal.
Falklands veteran HMS Exeter was quietly towed out of Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday afternoon to head to a scrapyard in Turkey.
HMS Nottingham and HMS Southampton are due to follow in the coming weeks after the MoD sold the decommissioned warships to Leyal Ship Recycling – the same firm which is currently breaking up the old aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.
The destroyers have a combined weight of around 24,000 tonnes of steel which is worth more than £2m in scrap – although the price Leyal paid for them has not been disclosed.
Defence officials considered 12 bids for the ships which were sold as one online auction lot.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘The decision to select Leyal was made because the company’s bid gave us the best financial return for the MoD.’
The ships have been stripped to the bone for spare parts by the MoD and Exeter was a shadow of her former self as ocean-going tugs towed her out of Portsmouth Harbour yesterday.
A small number of people gathered in silence at the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth to see the ship leave.
Len Brownsword, 63, who served as a Petty Officer radar operator in the ship during the Falklands War, said: ‘It’s extremely sad to see her go. There’s not many ships you serve on that go to war and I had some great times on the ship.
‘She was a cracking warship, a good workhorse and had a brilliant crew. To go through the Falklands unscathed was a bit of luck but not without a lot of hard work and an outstanding crew and captain.
‘I’m extremely proud of the time I spent on her. It’s a sad day but in the end all ships have to go.’
Exeter was commissioned in 1980 and saw action off Kuwait in 1991 as well as the Falklands. She was decommissioned in 2009.
It will take about a month for the ship to reach Leyal’s scrapyard in Izmir, Turkey, where she will be cut up and recycled into new steel.
The former Southampton and Nottingham warships are set to leave Portsmouth soon.
Southampton, which was commissioned in 1981, collided with a merchant container ship in the Straits of Hormuz in 1988. In 2006, she seized almost four tonnes of cocaine while operating in the Caribbean. She was decommissioned in 2009.
Nottingham was commissioned in 1983. She almost sank in 2002 when she ran aground off the coast of Australia. The ship was back at sea two years later after a £39m repair and refit but was mothballed in 2008. She officially retired in February last year.
Leyal Ship Recycling won the contract to scrap HMS Invincible earlier this year. The same firm scrapped Type 42s HMS Cardiff, Glasgow and Newcastle in 2008.
A company spokesman said: ‘Our continued co-operation for the recycling of the decommissioned Royal Navy vessels is a testament to the high quality work performed.’