Centuries of shipbuilding come to an end in Portsmouth as barge heads north

The aircraft carrier Block leaves Portsmouth Naval Base. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (142527-01)
The aircraft carrier Block leaves Portsmouth Naval Base. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142527-01)
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SHIPBUILDING in Portsmouth has come to an end.

Following centuries of tradition, the final naval ship block built in the city yesterday left on a barge for Scotland.

As the first postal ballot papers were sent out to voters in Scotland for next month’s independence referendum, workers waved goodbye to the last piece of HMS Prince of Wales to be built in the city.

The aircraft carrier is set to return to the city at the end of the decade, along with HMS Queen Elizabeth.

It was a poignant moment that many see as the end of a long history of building naval ships in the city.

Paul Bowsher, Queen Elizabeth Class project manager for BAE Systems, paid tribute to workers who completed the project on time, despite a difficult journey following the announced closure of the yard last November.

He said: ‘There have been a lot of teams working on this from BAE, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and from the maintenance side of BAE. It has been a true team effort to get this section out.

‘We have been doing the building side of it, myself and my team, and completed it to the right quality and to schedule, which I am extremely proud of.

‘The guys here have been working in very difficult circumstances as we have come to the end of the build here in Portsmouth.

‘It has been fantastic that we have been able to finish with pride.’

Asked about the mood within the yard as the 6,000-ton block was being prepared to leave yesterday morning, he said: ‘It is a very sad moment for us.

‘We have seen our colleagues over the recent months moving on and taking on new roles within the dockyard. We are still trying to help others into roles, but it is a very sad day.’

Mr Bowsher added the departure of the block also signified the beginning of a new era, with the two part-Portsmouth-built ships returning to the city once they are commissioned.

Mick Ord, managing director at BAE Systems Naval Ships, described the moment as a ‘significant milestone for the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier programme’.

He said: ‘It is a particularly proud moment for the team in Portsmouth whose contribution to delivering the nation’s flagships has been outstanding.

‘This 6,000-ton section, known as Lower Block 02, is an incredible feat of engineering and its delivery marks the start of final assembly for the second ship.

‘Once completed, we look forward to the Queen Elizabeth Class returning to their home port of Portsmouth.’

Speaking before the block left Portsmouth Harbour, Andy Butterworth, project manager for the build in the city, said: ‘It is very sad, but we have got to look to the future and there are two fantastic ships going to arrive in Portsmouth.

‘For anybody who has seen it in Rosyth, it is a really awesome looking ship. I am sure the second ship will be exactly the same, so there is a lot to look forward to.

‘It is tinged with sadness because we will unfortunately not be working with a number of our colleagues and friends for some time, but everybody recognises that we have done a fantastic job.

‘Everybody is certainly finishing with pride and you look at the response we get from our customer, they recognise that we have delivered the product, and from their point of view, it is all very positive.’

At one stage of the intricate process, there was just 30cm clearance on each side between the block and the side of the lock.

Kris Shields, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance’s transportation project manager, was overseeing the move of the block through the lock and out to the harbour.

He said: ‘My team has been here all week, making sure the block is being welded to the barge and making sure it is all secure for the transportation to Rosyth.

‘It is quite emotional watching it come out. It’s quite emotional knowing this will be the last block coming out of Portsmouth for BAE Systems, for the ACA and the whole carrier build.

‘It has been a long process to get here and it is a little bit sad, but exciting at the same time because I have got the honour of getting that out to Rosyth.’