HUNDREDS of people turned out to mark the retirement of a Royal naval warship which civic leaders hope will become a star attraction in the City of Culture celebrations in Hull in 2017.
HMS Illustrious’s white ensign was lowered for the final time during a ceremony in Portsmouth marking her decommissioning as the last Navy Invincible-class aircraft carrier.
Hull Council is working with the National Museum of the Royal Navy on plans to bring the warship, known as “Lusty” to Hull, either permanently as an attraction, conference centre and education and research facility or for two key years 2017/2018.
Council leader Steve Brady said the scheme “would be brilliant for the Royal Navy and really good for the city,” but they needed a decision from the Government soon to get on with plans its berth alongside a new cruise terminal within walking distance of the city centre.
Coun Brady said they were making progress on the terminal, a key part of the City Plan, with cruise operators saying they would be willing to disembark passengers for half-a-day visits.
Despite the “savagery” of local government cuts of £100m, with another £50m to come in the next five years, he believes they can manage to pay for the terminal, with the help of a number of funding sources and money the council has set aside “very comfortably.”
He said: “I believe we certainly have an excellent opportunity to get a cruise terminal in place - but a decision has to be made soon because we have to get on with it.”
The city is facing competition from private companies, charities and trusts. Newcastle and China are said to be interested.
Illustrious will eventually be replaced by two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers - HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Lady Sarah Chatto, whose mother, the late Princess Margaret, launched “Lusty” in 1978, was among the guests at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday alongside 15 of the ship’s 17 former commanding officers. Captain Mike Utley, the 22,000-tonne ship’s CO, said the extraordinary thing about her was her flexibility - she was originally conceived as an as aviation-capable anti-submarine warfare platform.
“Over the years she has changed which is testament to her designers and British industry,” he added. “She finished up as an amphibious helicopter carrier and did extraordinary work in the Philippines last year.”
During the Falklands conflict, Illustrious, built by Swan Hunter on the Tyne, relieved HMS Invincible in providing a floating airfield for aircraft unable to use the islands’ damaged RAF base.
She went on to support the forces in Afghanistan and served in the Bosnian and Sierra Leone conflicts, and helped evacuate Britons during the Lebanon war in 2006.
Last year she was involved in efforts to distribute relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The Ministry of Defence said that retention in the UK will be one of the conditions of sale.