Royal couple joined broadcaster naturalist Sir David Attenborough at the Birkenhead shipyard for an event attended by hundreds of members of the public. Tony McDonough reports
Legendary broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough joined the the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead in a naming ceremony for the vessel that bears his name.
RRS Sir David Attenborough is a £200m polar research vessel, commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council and built by workers at the famous shipyard, will be operated by British Antarctic Survey.
The event kicked off a three-day public celebration which aims to inspire and inform people about polar science, engineering and technology – and why it matters to everyday life.
Addressing a large crowd at the ceremony, in the shadow of the ship, Sir David said: “This astonishing ship will find the science with which to deal with the problems that are facing the world today and will increasingly do so tomorrow.”
Just before his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, pressed the button to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull of the ship, the Duke paid tribute to Sir David, saying: “There has never been a more important moment for this ship to get to work, and there is no person more fitting for this beacon of scientific research to be named after than you, David.”
Primary school students from the STEM Polar Explorer Programme met the Duke and Duchess as they took a private tour of the ship. Local primary schools that have been studying the Antarctic and climate change, took part in a ‘penguin parade’.
RRS Sir David Attenborough will transform how ship-borne science is conducted in the Polar Regions. It is part of a £300m Government polar infrastructure investment programme designed to keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic.
Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of British Antarctic Survey, explained: “This magnificent ship will take UK scientists deep into the heart of the ice-covered polar seas. With state-of-the-art technology they will discover how drastically the polar oceans and the ice have been changed by our actions.”
In the coming weeks specialist engineers will complete the interior fit-out. A programme of technical and equipment testing will take place around the River Mersey and in deeper waters around the UK. Ice trials in the northern hemisphere are planned from March 2020, followed by a science rehearsal cruise from August 2020. The ship is scheduled to enter full service from October 2020.
Cammell Laird chief executive John Syvret CBE, said: “This is an historic day for Cammell Laird, and todays naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, arguably one of the most complex vessels afloat, underpins our re-emergence to the premier league of the global shipbuilding community.
“It has taken 20 years to regenerate this infrastructure, capability and capacity, and I am extremely proud of all who have worked tirelessly to achieve today’s milestone. This vessel represents our greatest challenge to date.”