No decision has yet been made on the future of the Royal Navy's former flagship HMS Ark Royal more than a year after it was put up for sale, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said. The MoD said in January that a decision on disposal of the 22,000-tonne Invincible Class carrier, decommissioned and put up for sale in March last year following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, would be made in "early 2012".
Labour's shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy MP called on the Government to "come clean" today after the defence department said no decision had yet been made but that it was "pending"."The decision needs to be considered and we need to make sure we make the right decision," an MoD spokeswoman said.
One of the private sector groups which bid, hoping to sink the 210ft ship as a diving reef off the Devon coast, said sale organiser the Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) agency had told it several weeks ago its recommendations had been sent to the MoD so that a minister could decide the ship's fate.
Ark Royal was put up for sale on the edisposals.com website, the same site through which her sister ship HMS Invincible was sold before being towed away to a scrapyard in Turkey. The deadline for bids for the former flagship was extended from June to July last year because of the interest.
In January the MoD said that the ship was "being disposed of by commercial tendering process to the most appropriate bidder, obtaining the best value for money for the taxpayer". Mr Murphy said today: "Everyone will want to know what this historic vessel is going to be used for and that the best value was achieved.
"It is bad enough that ministers have degraded British power at sea, for example leaving us without planes on aircraft carriers for years, but hiding these plans is very disappointing. "The Government appear embarrassed about the impact of their rushed defence review. If a decision has been made, ministers shouldn't cover it up for political reasons. The public deserves openness."
Although the Ark Royal, which is at Portsmouth Naval Base, Hampshire, could be sold for its scrap metal, other proposals for it include a commercial heliport in London, a nightclub and school in China and a casino in Hong Kong. Another bid has come from Wreck the World, which aims to turn the ship into a reef off the coast of Torbay just over 30 years after she was launched in 1981.
Michael Byfield, a diving instructor who runs Wreck the World with colleague James Doddrell, 31, said they received an email from DE&S several weeks ago regarding the sale. "They said they had made their decision and that they were presenting their findings to the minister and it is him making the decision," he said. "As far as I know it is still for sale," he added.
But he said it would not surprise him if the Government did decide to keep hold of the ship. "It is hard to say, with the problems they are having with the HMS Queen Elizabeth (aircraft carrier) and the F35 (fighter jets) what they will do."