THE head of the Royal Navy will visit Portsmouth on Friday to say a personal goodbye to HMS Ark Royal.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope will deliver a speech and inspect a 30-strong guard of the ship’s company during the aircraft carrier’s decommissioning ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Base.
The ship’s last remaining 150 sailors on board will take part in the farewell service in front of 900 guests including families and former commanding officers.
Civic dignitaries from her affiliated city of Leeds will also be present.
The high-profile appearance of the First Sea Lord is surprising given the embarrassment the controversial decision to axe the ship has caused the Admiralty.
Adml Stanhope ceded to the government’s demands to lose Ark and the Harrier jets – leaving the navy without carrier strike capability for almost a decade.
The decision was then shockingly leaked to the media before the crew was informed.
A defence source said: ‘Ark Royal has become a bit of a political football to say the least. I think the First Sea Lord wanted come to Portsmouth to make a stance and support the men and women who did such a fantastic job in the ship.’
Ark’s white ensign will be lowered for the final time during the hour-long ceremony on the ship’s flight deck on Friday morning.
The service will be conducted by the ship’s chaplain, the Rev Martin Evans. The Royal Marines Band, Portsmouth, will provide the ceremonial music.
Captain Jerry Kyd, the last commanding officer of Ark Royal, will be there.
He said: ‘Ark Royal has played a very important role throughout her history and has had considerable success in delivering carrier strike.’
Capt Kyd, who has moved on to command Ark’s sister ship HMS Illustrious, added: ‘I am only too aware that this famous ship and her iconic name mean a great deal to many people, but although Ark Royal will be decommissioned, the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are vastly more capable and will provide the Royal Navy with an exciting future.’
The first of the new carriers is in construction. She is due to be in Portsmouth 2020.