MP asks why Ark Royal 'should be sold for less than Torbay's bid'
MINISTERS have been challenged over selling the former Navy flagship HMS Ark Royal abroad for scrap rather than turn it into an artificial reef off Torbay.
Disappointment has greeted the move and answers are being demanded from Whitehall.
Despite the Government insisting the decision is final, campaigners lobbying for the 22,000-ton aircraft carrier to be turned into a diving wreck off the South Devon coast have vowed to fight on.
The Ministry of Defence announced this week it was selling the iconic vessel to a Turkish scrap metal firm in a £3million deal.
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It said bids received for alternative uses for the ship, which as well as a diving reef included turning it into a helipad in the Thames, a museum, and a casino, were '…judged either not feasible or appropriate, or carried too much risk'.
The 31-year-old Ark Royal was withdrawn from service last year as part of sweeping military cutbacks — five years ahead of its expected sell-by date.
It is being sold for 'recycling' to the same Turkish firm as its sister ship HMS invincible.
But HMS Illustrious, commissioned in June 1982 just days after the Falklands War, is to be preserved after completing active service in 2014, as a 'lasting tribute' to the work of the Invincible class carriers.
Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: "HMS Ark Royal, like her sister ships, served this country with great distinction.
"Retiring her five years earlier than planned was a difficult decision but it was the right one that, combined with her sale, has saved more than £100million.
"That has helped the MoD achieve a sustainable and balanced budget for the first time in decades."
But Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, said: "I am disappointed that a decision has been made to sell the Ark Royal abroad rather than sink it as a diving wreck off Torbay.
"I have spoken to the Minister, Phillip Dunne, to express the concern felt especially that it should be sold for less than was offered by Torbay's bid.
"I have demanded detailed feedback on the reasons for this decision, which I'm told is final."
Michael Byfield, of the Wreck the World project which wanted to turn the Ark Royal into the world's second-largest artificial reef, said: "I am disappointed but we have not given up.
"The decision was supposed to be based on social and economic benefits and best value.
"But it's gone for £2.9million and we had already offered £3.5million.
"Even if you forget the loss of the social and economic benefits to Britain, they are already a massive £600,000 out of pocket.
"The main thing is that we do not want it to go for scrap. The British taxpayer paid for it and British men and women died on it.
"We need to stand up for the spirit of the Ark Royal as a nation and we need to be listened to. I am definitely not going to throw the towel in.
"I think the MoD has sent it to Turkey because they know people don't want to see her cut in half on a beach somewhere."
Ark Royal is the fifth vessel to carry the name of the flagship which saw off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Known as the Mighty Ark, the light aircraft carrier saw action in the Adriatic during the Bosnian War in 1993 before being sent to lead the British fleet during the invasion of Iraq a decade later.
Following the Defence and Security Review's decision to scupper the vessel and ground the Navy's Harrier jump jet fleet 18 months ago, the Royal Ark has been awaiting its fate in Portsmouth harbour.