THE navy has unveiled a new £3.25m sea survival training centre to teach sailors and Royal Marines how to abandon ships safely.
The centre on Horsea Island was officially named Ardent yesterday in memory of HMS Ardent which was sunk during the Falklands War with the loss of 22 men.
The training centre first opened at Horsea Lake almost 30 years ago following the lessons learnt from the 1982 conflict with Argentina, which claimed 258 British lives.
For years it was run from makeshift huts.
But last year, the navy brought in Havant-based architect Peter Galloway to design a new facility at the site.
It was opened by Falklands veteran Commodore Adrian Nance, a survivor from HMS Sheffield which sank following an Argentine missile strike which killed 20 sailors.
He said: ‘It’s important the navy continues to invest in the lessons it learnt 30 years ago.
‘Lots of people died for us to learn those lessons and it’s a tribute to those people that the navy has invested in this new building.’
The navy’s sea survival training sees 10,000 people a year leap into Horsea Lake in all weathers to practise clambering into up-turned life rafts while wearing survival suits.
The course is close to the heart of sea survival manager Russell ‘Eli’ Ellis, 61, of Portchester, who abandoned his ship, HMS Coventry, after she was attacked by Argentine bombers, killing 20.
He said: ‘Since the Falklands, the emphasis is on preparing ourselves adequately in case we have to abandon ship in a war. In the Falklands, the feeling was nothing would happen to us because we were fighting an inferior force.
‘But when the Sheffield was hit it woke everyone up and people realised we are not as good as we thought.
‘Back then, everyone was trained to abandon ship.
‘However we did not train in this type of facility. It was part of the basic training but you never really entered the water – you just sat in on demonstrations.
‘The training and the equipment we have now undoubtedly would save lives if we were in that situation again.’
Members of the HMS Ardent Association were invited to the opening event.
Richard Gough, 53, who was a Petty Officer aboard the ship during the Falklands, said: ‘The advance in equipment and training at this facility is fantastic. It’s great this building has been named Ardent.’