‘It is unthinkable not to have an Ark Royal’

FUTURE A computer image of one of the new carriers
FUTURE A computer image of one of the new carriers
A Merlin helicopter from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has been training with HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth Naval Base as part of her Rotary Wing Trials

Helicopter puts flight deck crew through its paces

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AN MP has urged the government to rename one of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers to ensure the world-famous Ark Royal name lives on after the ship is decommissioned on Friday.

The 25-year-old aircraft carrier, pictured below, became a shock casualty of the defence cuts announced by the government last year.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt has written to defence secretary Liam Fox suggesting the first of the two new supercarriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth – be renamed HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Ark Royal.

Her call for a double-barrelled name comes ahead of Friday’s official ceremony to formally retire the ship three years earlier than planned to save money.

Ms Mordaunt, who is a naval reservist and sits on the parliamentary defence committee, wrote: ‘It is almost unthinkable that there should be a Royal Navy without an Ark Royal, whatever the historic precedents.’

Since the crisis in Libya began, the coalition has faced repeated criticism over the decision to axe Ark Royal and the Royal Navy’s Harrier jets, leaving Britain without a functioning aircraft carrier until at least 2020. The government was keen to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya as civil war looms in the country.

But prime minister David Cameron was warned Britain would struggle to enforce it without a carrier.

Dr Fox called the criticism a ‘red herring’ because the base in Cyprus meant Britain could operate RAF Tornado jets over Libya if required. And he indicated a no-fly zone is still on the cards, saying the issue would be discussed at a meeting of NATO defence ministers later this week.

Meanwhile, HMS Cumberland arrived in Malta yesterday after rescuing troops from a botched SAS mission in Libya. The frigate went into the eastern port of Benghazi on Sunday night to pick up the eight-strong team – thought to have included an MI6 officer.

They were sent to the country in a bid to foster links with opponents of Colonel Gaddafi. But the plan went awry when their helicopter sparked an alert by landing near Benghazi without informing rebel commanders. The group was reportedly detained by rebels after a search of their bags revealed ammunition, explosives, maps and fake passports.