UP TO £20m is to be spent on HMS Victory in a decade of major restoration to reverse years of rot and decay, The News can reveal today.
It comes after a survey of the 245-year-old ship found she was riddled with rot, leaking and being pulled apart by her own weight.
The Ministry of Defence says the project will be one of the largest restorations ever of Lord Nelson’s flagship.
A contract for the work, understood to be worth somewhere between £15m and £20m, will be put out to commercial tender next month, with a view to engineers starting work before the end of the year.
The MoD said the Battle of Trafalgar ship, which has 350,000 visitors every year, should remain open to the public during most, if not all, of her 10-year restoration.
And the ship will remain as a commissioned Royal Navy vessel contrary to speculation she would be sold off.
A spokesman said: ‘We’re looking to undertake major restoration work which will span 10 years from late this year. This follows a survey that was the most thorough that has ever been done on board the ship. The work will be one of the biggest periods of restoration work the ship has undergone.’
‘This work underlines our commitment for Victory to remain a ship of the Royal Navy. She will remain the Second Sea Lord’s flagship and she will not be allowed to rot away. She will be properly maintained and will remain an iconic vessel open to the public for the foreseeable future.’
The spokesman said details of the restoration programme would be given once the contract was awarded at the end of the summer. The cost of the work is understood to be £10m.
As well as the restoration project, the winning firm will have to continue with basic routine maintenance of the ship, which costs an additional £1.5m each year. The maintenance contract held by BAE Systems expires this summer.
The MoD commissioned surveys to find out the state of the ship last year. The results made for grim reading for defence chiefs, revealing a catalogue of problems including major structural damage and rot to the ship’s timber.
Jonathan Coad, chairman of the independent Victory Advisory Technical Committee, said he was glad the MoD was taking steps to fix Victory.
He said: ‘These plans are certainly one of the biggest restoration projects. This should see the ship in good condition for years to come.
‘It’s a difficult time financially and I’ve no doubt there will be some head-scratching in parts of the MoD but the indications I’ve had are that the MoD is standing by the ship and will look after her the way she should be looked after.’
Mr Coad said advances in technology had allowed engineers to look behind the timber panels like never before.
He said: ‘We realised a few years ago that advances in technology would give us more knowledge about the state of the ship, so full marks to the MoD for commissioning the survey to highlight what needs to be done.
It was the first survey of this magnitude to be done on Victory and now they are going to back that up with investment to put her right. HMS Victory is more than just a heritage attraction. She is a living ship and I’m very pleased this work is going to be done. I’m pleased the MoD recognises how important she is to Portsmouth and to the nation.’
Survey shows ship was not getting ‘adequate support’
SURVEYS carried out last year revealed that, under her exterior, HMS Victory was in a shocking state.
Some basic maintenance had not been carried out to a high enough standard and some restoration work left the ship in a worse structural state, with fewer bolts replaced than were taken out of some beams.
One report detailed how the ship’s cradle in the dockyard was not providing adequate support to combat the stress of her weight on the concrete.
This has caused the ship to bow out at the sides. Her so-called ‘knee joints’ – huge brackets which hold the sides of the ship to horizontal beams – are loose and in some places, the ends of the beams are as much as five inches from the sides of the ship and some joints are no longer attached to the hull at all. If this is not addressed, the ship could fall apart.
A second report revealed problems with rain water. One area damaged by leaks is the cabin used by Thomas Hardy, who captained the ship at the Battle of Trafalgar and was with Lord Nelson as he died on board from wounds inflicted by a French sharpshooter in the fighting.
A further problem was with a lack of remedial work to the ship’s rigging, which could have led to parts of the upper deck being closed to the public because of the risk of parts falling down.
The MoD says it has recently rectified problems with the rigging.
A spokesman said: ‘The ship is safe and any safety issues identified have been rectified.’
within the current regime.
‘We will continue to ensure the safety of the public has the highest priority and we do not hesitate to take the appropriate action when any concerns are raised.’