British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious could continue its life as a disaster relief ship - despite getting a radical makeover as a luxury yacht. Bold plans have reimagined the 31-year-old vessel, which leaves Royal Navy service later this year, as the 'Commonwealth Yacht' with three modern 'sails' containing bedrooms, restaurants and conference suites towering above deck. Yet below deck the 23,000-tonne vessel could still contain a hospital, heavy-duty trucks and equipment to help in a global disaster, designers claim.
The ship, which returned from an aid mission to the typhoon-hit Philippines on Friday, will be the last of the Navy's three Invincible class light aircraft carriers to be decommissioned later this year. The controversial decision will leave Britain without a single aircraft carrier until two new £6 billion vessels enter service in 2020.
Unlike HMS Invincible and the Ark Royal, which ended up in Turkish scrapyards, the Ministry of Defence said it wanted to find a new use for HMS Illustrious and invited firms to bid for it. The Commonwealth Yacht plan is one of the first to be made public and was the brainchild of two yacht design firms from Britain and Austria. The futuristic drawings replace planes on the flight deck with swimming pools and instead of militaristic control towers would be the modern 'sails'.
Yet the ship could still be used actively as an aircraft carrier with its ski-jump take-off ramp remaining intact - providing a curious experience for those having a quiet swim. Its designers, Portsmouth-based BMT Nigel Gee and the Viennese firm Sigmund Yacht Design, say it would be used to promote trade in the Commonwealth and host conferences. Then if a global disaster happened it would spring into action, using its resources below deck.
Exact details of the plan, including how much it would cost, have not been announced publicly. An organisation willing to fund and run the hybrid design - such as a charity or the United Nations - would also have to be persuaded to take it on and possibly tweak the design to their own purposes. No organisation has yet agreed to do so, it is believed. Sigmund Yacht Design owner Peter Symonds said: 'We are hoping to convince the MoD that this carrier has a life after the Royal Navy.
'She may be 30 years old but we believe there is a role in the world for her yet. We thought she would be fantastic as a luxury yacht, but also there is the idea to have her as a Commonwealth aid ship. 'She has just come back from the Philippines, so maybe we can convince a charity or the United Nations to invest in her to perform that role as well.
'There is a lot of talk about what she could be used for, but no-one has put pen to paper to actually show what she could look like and how it might work. 'We believe our design is a brave interpretation of such a distinguished vessel, stating boldly its new purpose, while paying respect to its impressive heritage.'
James Roy, yacht design director at BMT Nigel Gee, added: 'In recognising the importance of preserving such an iconic vessel, we came up with the idea of a "Commonwealth Yacht", where Illustrious could serve all nations of the Commonwealth as a vehicle for promoting trade, attending international events, and undertaking humanitarian and disaster relief work around the globe.' Known to her crew as Lusty, the ship is the fifth Royal Navy warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name Illustrious.
Entering service just after the Falklands War in 1982, she helped to maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia during the war there in the early 1990s. She was deployed to operate the no-fly zone in Iraq during Operation Southern Watch in 1998, and led the naval task force to Sierra Leone during that country's civil war in 2000. Various refits later, the Government decided during the defence cuts in 2010 that Illustrious would be retired from service in 2014.
Other bids for the ship, which had to be finalised last month, exist from the cities of Portsmouth and Hull to retain her as a heritage attraction. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: 'All interested parties needed to complete an industry day application form and return it to the Disposal Services Authority (DSA) by December 10. 'For commercial reasons we cannot discuss individual applications received by the DSA. 'A number of applications have been received and these are being assessed.'