THE government says there are no plans to halt the mothballing of the Royal Navy’s flagship despite the ongoing unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
HMS Albion is due to be placed in ‘extended readiness’ later this year to save fuel and crew costs. It comes just seven years after she entered service at a cost of £359m.
Amid continuing instability in North Africa and the Middle East, defence ministers have been pressed to review the decision to put one of the 21,000-tonne landing platform dock vessels in reserve.
But defence minister Nick Harvey said: ‘We have no plans to do so... we plan in future to be able to land and sustain a command group of up to 1,800 personnel from the sea using specialist shipping.
‘To meet this requirement, we need to maintain at high readiness just one of our two landing platforms docks. The second ship will be held at extended readiness.’
Albion became flagship of the fleet after HMS Ark Royal was axed in government cuts.
She is leading the UK’s new Response Force Task Group (RFTG) which is on standby in the Mediterranean as the crisis continues in Libya.
The RFTG, also known as Operation Cougar, was deployed last month and includes hundreds of Royal Marines, HMS Sutherland and RFA Cardigan Bay.
The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean was recently deployed and is understood to now be in the Mediterranean with a mix of support helicopters, Apache attack helicopters and landing craft, enabling the landing of Royal Marines, their vehicles and equipment.
The Ministry of Defence insists the deployment is not linked to events in Libya but has confirmed the long-planned exercise was started earlier than planned against a backdrop of mounting instability in the region.
The MoD states the fleet will be ‘poised’ to respond at short notice across a range of defence activities such as evacuation operations, disaster relief, humanitarian aid or amphibious operations.