Last chance to look around HMS Ark Royal

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HMS Ark Royal will be opened up to visitors for the last time during a weekend of celebrations for the axed aircraft carrier, the Royal Navy announced today.

Members of the public will be able to step on board for free on Saturday, January 22 and Sunday, January 23, to say goodbye to the most famous ship in the world.

Up to 250 of the ship's company will also march through Portsmouth City Centre on the Saturday with a ceremonial service held in Guildhall Square to celebrate the close affiliation between the warship and her home port.

Fifty of the sailors will then go to Fratton Park and be paraded on the pitch ahead of Pompey's match against Leeds - the city the Ark is affiliated to.

The Ark's commanding officer, Captain Jerry Kyd, said he was excited about welcoming people aboard.

He said: 'The strong association that Ark Royal has maintained throughout the last 25 years with the city of Portsmouth is immensely important.

'It is a real pleasure to be able to mark these links with a parade through the city, reception in the Guildhall and take the opportunity to open my ship to the public for the final time over the weekend.'

The government's decision to scrap the carrier three years early was met with shock and dismay last October.

More than 14,000 people went aboard the ship in Newcastle and Hamburg, in Germany, during the ship's last voyages in November.

Until now, there had been no plan for people to go aboard the ship in her home base of Portsmouth.

But naval chiefs decided to open up the Ark to the public for one last time after Portsmouth City Council announced it intended to hold a parade.

It's expected that thousands of people from all over the country will travel to Portsmouth to say goodbye to the ship.

She is to be officially decommissioned on March 11.

Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said he was looking forward to hosting the parade and service on the Saturday.

He said: 'It's very important the city celebrates the close links the navy, and Ark Royal in particular, has with Portsmouth, and that residents have a chance to say goodbye to this special ship in this way.'

On Saturday, January 22, 250 sailors from HMS Ark Royal will parade from Paradise Street, Portsmouth, at 11.20am and arrive at Guildhall Square at 11.30am.

A service to celebrate the ship's 25 years of service will then take place in the Square from 11.30am until midday. Sailors, their families and guests will then enjoy a reception inside the Guildhall.

The Ark will be open to the public at Portsmouth Naval Base between midday and 4pm on Saturday, January 22 and 10am and 3pm on Sunday, January 23.

There will be access to the hangar, flight deck and operations room. Entry to the ship will be through Portsmouth Historic Dockyard's main entrance at Victory Gate. Admission to the ship is free and on a first-come, first-served basis. The ship cannot accommodate wheelchairs or pushchairs.

Bumper weekend planned for ship

by MICHAEL POWELL

Defence correspondent

michael.powell@thenews.co.uk