'Britannia' floats into future controversy

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The Independent Online
Three weeks ago The Independent revealed that royal yacht Britannia would not be refurbished or replaced. Yesterday, this was confirmed officially by the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson. But there is lingering unease over the ship's future.

It is not the fact so much that Britannia will be the last royal yacht that concerns the Royal Family; they have accepted that for a while. But, according to senior officials, there is apprehension that this once-proud symbol of the monarchy could end up as a rusting museum or being hired out for parties.

The Government is adamant that it will not spend pounds 60-80m of public money on a new yacht. Nor is it prepared to spend pounds 5-10m a year to keep the ship going in a partnership with private enterprise.

Instead, the Ministry of Defence is looking at options to use her for a range of services including corporate hospitality, a trade centre, and a floating museum at venues from her Clydeside birthplace to the millennium festival site at Greenwich in London.

The MoD is keen to stress that it has tightly vetted applications to prevent Britannia turning into a gin palace or a floating casino.

But Buckingham Palace sources point out that the good intentions of this government may not guard against indignities in the future. They also say it will be impossible to maintain the yacht in its pristine condition without a lot of money.