Ceremony to mark start of Attenborough polar ship construction

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The RRS Sir David Attenborough will work both in the Arctic and the Antarctic / ROLLS-ROYCE

Construction of the UK’s new £200m polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, formally begins on Monday at Cammell Laird on Merseyside.

A ceremony will see a crane lower a near-100-tonne segment of keel on to blocks on the firm’s slipway. The ship is intended to be at work by 2019.

The vessel is already well known owing to the online vote to name it, which saw the public choose Boaty McBoatface.

An autonomous submarine deployed by the ship will be given that name instead.

In the end, the government decided that recognition of BBC TV presenter and naturalist Sir David Attenborough in naming the main vessel would be more fitting.

Cammell Laird‘s managing director, Linton Roberts, said Monday’s keel-laying ceremony was an important moment for his company – an event that had drawn huge interest.

“To be honest I could have sold tickets, so many people wanted to attend,” he told BBC News.

“It’s another chapter in the yard’s history. We’ve built every conceivable type of ship over the last 200 years. Obviously, we’ve come through a period when British shipbuilding has been in the doldrums, but we’re fighting our way back and we see the RRS Sir David Attenborough as a breakout vessel to get us right up there into the top tier.”

Cammell Laird believes the experience of delivering a complex project like the Attenborough will help it win future orders, not just for more research vessels but for a range of ships that might want to operate in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

There is growing interest, for example, in tourism at the poles; and regular cargo routes are likely to open up as the seasonal extent of sea-ice in the far north continues to diminish.

The Birkenhead shipbuilder signed the contract to construct the 128m-long vessel last November.

The deal committed the firm to deliver the ice-breaker in 31 months. Design work, led by Rolls-Royce, resulted in the first steel being cut in July, with the first welded unit of “Hull 1390” now ready to go on its blocks.

Sir David himself will be on hand to press the button that initiates the movement of the crane and its massive load.

Tradition calls for the first keel segment to be placed atop a coin. On this occasion, it will be a newly minted coin from the British Antarctic Territory (that part of Antarctica claimed by the UK).

“Once the ship is launched, we will recover the coin and we’ll present it to the crew, for good luck while they sail the oceans,” explained Mr Roberts.

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