Royal Navy’s old workhorse makes her final voyage

FINAL JOURNEY RFA Bayleaf leaves Portsmouth for the last time and, inset, Angela Pritchard who was the ship's sponsor. Pictures: Michael Powell
FINAL JOURNEY RFA Bayleaf leaves Portsmouth for the last time and, inset, Angela Pritchard who was the ship's sponsor. Pictures: Michael Powell
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AT the crack of dawn, Angela Pritchard cut a lonely figure on the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth.

She had driven down from Beckington, Somerset, at 4am to witness the final voyage of RFA Bayleaf.

Angela Pritchard who was the ship's sponsor. Picture: Michael Powell

Angela Pritchard who was the ship's sponsor. Picture: Michael Powell

In 1981, Angela was there when the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship was launched in Birkenhead.

And she was there at the end with a tear in her eye as Bayleaf left Portsmouth for a scrapyard in Turkey.

The wife of Ken Pritchard, the navy’s former director general of supplies and transport, Angela was named as the ship’s Lady Sponsor at the tanker’s launch and had followed her progress around the globe for three decades.

‘It kind of feels like losing a loved one,’ she said, as the ship was quietly towed out of Portsmouth Harbour at first light.

‘My daughter, Emma, was christened on the ship 28 years ago and her name is the only one on the bell, so it’s a very sad day for me. I have so many fond memories of this ship.’

Bayleaf was a workhorse for the Royal Navy fleet for 30 years, supplying and refuelling ships all over the world.

She was involved in the Falklands War in 1982, the Gulf War in 1991, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By the time Bayleaf was decommissioned last year, she had sailed 1.4 million miles, which is the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe 56 times.

Now, she will be cut up for scrap by Leyal Ship Recycling at the firm’s plant in Izmir, Turkey – the same fate suffered by HMS Invincible, Exeter, Nottingham, Southampton, Cardiff, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Bayleaf’s demise comes after she was axed, along with two other RFAs, following the cuts outlined in the MoD’s Strategic Security and Defence Review in 2010.

The ship’s 37,000-tonnes of steel will be recycled for use in the construction industry and for everyday household items such as razor blades and saucepans.

‘It does break your heart,’ Mrs Pritchard said. ‘The awful bit that hurts the most is that she’s going to the scrapyard, but it’s a sign of the times I suppose. I’ve seen the ship come back unscathed from the Falklands and the Gulf but now she’s going to be broken apart in Turkey.’

An MoD spokesman said: ‘After 30 years of service, RFA Bayleaf has been sold to Leyal, the Turkish recycling company. When disposing of ships the MoD always strives to secure the best value for money for the taxpayer and the most competitive offer for RFA Bayleaf came from Leyal.’