Three new ships set to 'fly the flag' for Britain and tackle illegal migration

The vessels will also be used to deliver aid to disaster-hit zones across the globe

Admirers watch Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales sail towards Portsmouth Naval Base. The UK has announced three privately-funded ships to be used for Royal Navy tasks. PA
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The UK has announced three multi-purpose ships which will be used to tackle illegal migration, deliver disaster relief, and carry ocean clean-ups while “flying the flag” for Britain.

The first of the vessels is expected to cost £150 million ($187 million) with the other two tipped to be “significantly” less.

Although the project will be completely funded by the private sector, the boats would be available for some Royal Navy tasks.

The vessels will also serve as training platforms for merchant mariners.

Penny Mordaunt, House of Commons leader and MP for Portsmouth North, said she is working with Britannia Maritime Aid and other organisations to finalise a business plan.

The proposed plan differs from Boris Johnson’s £250 million bid for a replacement for the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia. The former prime minister had hoped his dream ship would serve as a ‘floating embassy’ and boost post-Brexit trade with nations around the world. But Rishi Sunak torpedoed the plan after he entered Downing Street in October 2022.

“The UK is a proud maritime nation, whose expertise is recognised and respected around the world,” Ms Mordaunt said.

“These multi-purpose ships seek to build on this by providing additional capacity to our existing fleets to deliver additional training, scientific research and disaster relief, while giving businesses space to show off innovative British products and services.”

The ships, set to be constructed in the UK, would be capable of performing a range of roles including research, disaster relief, ocean clean-up, hospital and medical training.

They have also been earmarked to play a part in the UK’s efforts to tackle illegal migration.

The Prime Minister has made his “stop the boats” pledge one of the five pillars of his premiership. The issue is proving to be a difficult one for the Conservative government to sort, with opposition and court setbacks to its plan to deport migrants to Rwanda to criticism of its working relationship with France.

The ships would measure 135 metres in length with a breadth of 23.4 metres and would be capable of speeds of 18 knots with a range of 6,000 nautical miles.

They would have 12000m3 of cargo space, capable of transporting 2,000 tonnes of aid, and would be able to accommodate more than 200 people including cadets, trainees and VIPs.

Ms Mordaunt, a Royal Navy reservist and former defence secretary, said the vessels are not designed to replicate what the UK had in its fleet in the past.

Rather they are “based on a serious and detailed assessment of what the country needs in the future in a cost-effective way by working closely with the private sector,” she said.

“These ships will fly the flag for the UK and will provide important additional resources for humanitarian relief and scientific research.

“Their construction and maintenance will benefit the whole maritime sector, providing vital opportunities to train the next generation of shipwrights, captains, navigators and engineers.

“They will benefit regions across the UK, including in my constituency of Portsmouth North, whose port and maritime sector will I hope play an important role in the life of these vessels for years to come.”

Ms Mordaunt, who reached the final two in the Tory leadership race late last year before bowing out, said the ships will serve as a modern-day nod to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

“I understand the comparisons to Britannia having grown up in the home port of Portsmouth. She was iconic,” the lawmaker said.

“If Britannia were around today this is what she’d be doing – showcasing the best of what our nation has to offer and working in partnership internationally.”

Updated: September 12, 2023, 11:01 PM