Royal family's yacht to set sail for farewell voyage Government scraps plan to save Britannia, symbol of empire since 1953

October 11, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Britain's royal family is giving up a gigantic floating perk: the three-masted, 412-foot royal yacht HMY Britannia.

Named and launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and used as a honeymoon retreat by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Britannia will embark this month on a last British cruise before heading for a scrapyard -- or a second life as floating hotel, maritime museum or corporate center.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson announced yesterday that the yacht would not be replaced after its tour ends in Portsmouth on Dec. 11.

"Britannia has served the nation well for over 40 years and earned a special place in many people's affections," Robertson said in a statement.

"We made clear that we would not spend public money on a royal yacht, and I am keeping that promise," he said.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said Queen Elizabeth considered the decision to be "understandable and appropriate."

Britain's royal family has pledged to modernize in the wake of Diana's death. The royal yacht was apparently an extravagance the family could live without, especially in a jet age.

Britannia, with a crew of more than 220, costs the government $19 million a year to operate. A new or refurbished yacht would carry annual operating expenses of between $8 million and $16 million.

In its last days, the Conservative government offered to build a new Britannia for $96 million. But the new Labor government vowed to sink the deal.

Seven options for Britannia's future are under consideration. A decision is not expected to be reached before early next year.

Still, some claim that Britannia was worth keeping afloat -- no matter the cost.

The royal yacht was a symbol of empire, cruising more than 1 million miles during more than 700 royal journeys. Earlier this year, the ship ferried Prince Charles and Britain's last governor from Hong Kong, as Britain handed to China one of its last imperial possessions.

Former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that Britannia had an "amazing impact" in helping seal trade deals and that the queen had a "soft spot" for the ship.

"This is a mean and short-sighted decision," Hurd said.

Prince Charles also frequently lobbied to preserve the yacht.

"We are classic geniuses at not valuing our assets," Charles told his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby.

"There are so many things we do brilliantly, far better than anyone else," he said. "Let's use them for God's sake, instead of moaning about them all the time. But I'm biased because I know her [Britannia]; I've known her all my life."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.