Call to return HMS Albion to sea – and save £14m
The Royal Navy has disputed claims that tying up one of the Westcountry's amphibious assault ships alongside to save money is costing £14 million a year.
The figure for mothballing HMS Albion, as part of the drive to slash military spending, was raised with ministers by a Conservative MP in the Commons, who called on the Government "to put this wonderful ship to sea". But the Ministry of Defence insists the actual cost of keeping the vessel in "extended readiness", aimed at saving on fuel and crew, is closer to £300,000 annually.
Urgent clarification is being sought from the Government by Shadow Defence Minister and Plymouth MP Alison Seabeck.
The 18,500 tonne warship was put on standby in late 2011 according to ministers, just eight years after entering service at a cost of £359 million. It followed the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review, which has also seen all four of Plymouth's Type 22 frigates scrapped, and moves to cut the Navy by around 5,000 personnel.
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According to current plans, HMS Albion will remain at Devonport on "extended readiness" until she replaces HMS Bulwark in 2016. The issue of keeping HMS Albion alongside was raised by Tory MP Richard Drax at defence questions, although he mistakenly said it was Portsmouth-based. It came as David Cameron suggested that ring-fenced aid money could be diverted to fund military operations aimed at stabilising war-torn states.
Mr Drax said: "I understand that it costs about £14 million a year for HMS Bulwark's sister ship, HMS Albion, to sit in [dock] doing not very much. Given the Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm for spending on our armed services, may I suggest that some of the money be used to put this wonderful ship to sea - if for no other reason than to help the Department for International Development?"
Responding Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: " "HMS Albion entered a period of extended readiness in late 2011, and according to current plans will remain at Her Majesty's naval base Devonport until her upkeep is completed in 2016.
"At that point, HMS Bulwark will go into extended readiness and HMS Albion will be placed at high readiness for operations."
An MoD spokesman insisted the cost of keeping HMS Albion in "extended readiness" was about £300,000 a year.