Boaty McBoatface takes to the seas: 'RRS David Attenborough' prepares for year-long Antarctic mission

Ship will carry out research critical to understanding climate change

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: The RRS Sir David Attenborough research vessel sits in the dock at Cammell Laird shipyard on October 14, 2020 in Liverpool, England. The Liverpool City Region was placed into the highest tier of the government's new three-tier system to assess Covid-19 risk, a designation which forced the area to close pubs and ban household mixing, among other restrictions. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Britain's most advanced polar research ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough has embarked on two weeks of sea trials in preparation for its maiden voyage to the Antarctic next year, as the naturalist the vessel is named after warned Covid-19 was holding back the fight against climate change.

The ship, which was nearly named Boaty McBoatface after an online poll went viral, will help provide a critical understanding of global warming when it departs for Antarctica in November 2021.

Next year the ship, operated by British Antarctic Survey, will also head for the Arctic to undertake ice trials after a four-year build programme by Cammell Laird.

“This vessel is a true celebration of British expertise – from the team who built it right through to the scientific community that will call this ship home,” said Cammell Laird chief executive David McGinley.

"The RRS Sir David Attenborough is the single biggest and most ambitious build in the history of Cammell Laird and it's an incredibly proud moment to see her embark on sea trials."

Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of British Antarctic Survey, said the ship would investigate the dramatic changes in polar oceans and take UK scientists to the heart of ice-covered seas.

“This exciting moment marks a major milestone in the construction as so many people have worked tirelessly over the last four years to bring our new ship to fruition,” she said.

“As we seek to find answers to the current climate crisis, this ship will take us to the ends of the Earth to seek answers and to help us understand our future world.”

The £200 million ($264m), 129-metre vessel will set off from Liverpool on Wednesday.

It came as Sir David Attenborough, the broadcaster and naturalist, warned that the Covid-19 pandemic could mean the focus on climate change would diminish.

"I am worried that people will take their eyes off the environmental issue because of the immediate problems they have on Covid-19," he told the teenage activist Greta Thunberg during a webinar.

"If there is any sign of hope, and there is to be truthful compared to what there was 25 years ago, it's because of what you've done and what you've done for young people," he said.

"The world owes you a lot and I hope you are not paying too high a price for it, and it looks from what you are saying that you are managing to survive all right."

Ms Thunberg, 17, said the attention on her as an individual meant people were not talking enough about global warming.

"It takes away focus from the climate process. All we are trying to do is raise public awareness and create public opinion," she said.

"If enough people become aware and if enough people put enough pressure on people in power and the elected officials then they will have to do something because the politicians job is to get elected and to do as the voters ask."

While initially there was some evidence that lockdowns earlier this year were having a positive impact on the environment, scientists have warned the long-term effect of them will likely be negligible.