Fog delays dress rehearsal of aircraft carrier’s arrival in Portsmouth

USNS Robert E Peary arriving at Portsmouth naval base in the fog yesterday Picture: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

USNS Robert E Peary arriving at Portsmouth naval base in the fog yesterday Picture: LPhot Barry Swainsbury

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DOCKYARD workers in Portsmouth had their first taste of what life will be like dealing with the arrival of the biggest warship the Royal Navy has ever built.

Portsmouth Naval Base is finally ready to receive HMS Queen Elizabeth after a £100m overhaul – including a major upgrade to the Princess Royal Jetty, which the aircraft carrier will soon call home.

Today has been exciting because its the first time we have been able to get onto the jetty and test, in real anger, the processes and procedures we’re planning to use for the carrier

Chris Allcock, QE support project manager at BAE System

And as a dress rehearsal for the 
65,000-tonne behemoth’s arrival later this year, teams had a chance to put their skills on one of the US Navy’s biggest cargo ships.

But things did not go quite to plan as thick fog delayed the arrival the USNS Robert E. Peary to the city’s military hub.

The 40,000-tonne vessel was forced to anchor in the Solent for several hours, scuppering hopes for a full test of the base’s new state-of-the-art equipment.

But despite weather delaying proceedings, the base’s commander Commodore Jeremy Rigby still hailed the day a success, saying it was an invaluable training exercise.

‘This is the first dress rehearsal, moving from where it has all been bricks and mortar and the physical preparations, to now putting ourselves through the process of the people that are going to work it,’ he said.

‘In my experience, bricks and mortar have never thrown a single heaving line in their time and have never gone on board and fixed a ship.

‘It all comes to the team, the workforce and the people, so we need to make sure that before the ship arrives we have gone through and deconflicted all those little bits and pieces.’

The project has been delivered by BAE Systems, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and VolkerStevin.

Work to overhaul the base began in 2015. It saw parts of the jetty, some dating 
back 90 years, being ripped out and replaced.

In addition, a new high-voltage electrical supply centre – which will power the two carriers when they are alongside – has been fitted and new gangways have been finished.

The next phase will see all the specialised equipment of the base being tested.

Chris Allcock, QE support project manager at BAE, said: ‘Today has been exciting because its the first time we have been able to get on to the jetty and test, in real anger, the processes and procedures we’re planning to use for the carrier.’

Dredging work to deepen Portsmouth harbour is still on-going and due to last a few more months.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently in Rosyth, Scotland, and is expected to arrive in Portsmouth in the summer.

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