HMS Ark Royal left Portsmouth Harbour last night for a series of exercises in America.
Th Royal Navy’s flagship had been due to leave for America after a recent work-up exercise of the Scottish coast. However during the exercise the disruption of flights by volcanic ash caused her to be put on notice to go to Spain to rescue stranded British holidaymakers. Although she was not used in this capacity, she had spent the past week or so in Portsmouth Harbour. Officially no reason has been given for this unscheduled stop, but she entered dry dock for several days earlier in the week, suggesting that she required maintenance underwater.
Ark’s departure all but confirms that there will be no Aircraft Carrier present at Navy Days in Portsmouth in July – Ark Royal will still be in America, Illustrious is in refit in Rosyth, and Invincible is in mothballs in Portsmouth Dockyard, and due to go to the breakers yard sometime later this year. It also shows how stretched the Royal Navy is at present, with two active aircraft carriers, one of which is deep in refit. The Navy’s response to any crisis around the world would depend on how long it would take Ark Royal to arrive.
This deployment is likely to be one of Ark Royal’s swansongs as a Royal Navy warship. Due to decommission in 2012, by then llustrious will be out of refit and will take her place as the Navy’s flagship until she leaves service in turn in 2015. Those dates are subject to change, however, given the UK’s political situation!