01/16/2012

Push is on for privately-funded royal yacht

Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia sits in drydock in Edinburgh. During its month-long stay, it will be power-washed to remove barnacles and is having three coats of paint. (Getty Images)

If Queen Elizabeth fancies trying out her sea legs again on a new yacht, the money will have to come from the private sector. And maybe a Canadian or two.

That message came through loud and clear from the Prime Minister David Cameron’s office after a proposal by one of his own Conservative ministers, Michael Gove.

PHOTO GALLERY: Royal Yacht Britannia gets a facelift

Gove, secretary of state for education, made the proposal in a letter to culture minister Jeremy Hunt, noting that a new yacht to replace the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia was appropriate given the Queen's "highly significant contribution" to the Commonwealth.

The PM's office quickly deep-sixed the idea that taxpayers might be on the hook, though Cameron has endorsed plans for private funding that would fund a replacement for the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997.

"On the issue of a royal yacht, clearly when it comes to the issue of public money, I don't think this would be an appropriate use of public money, given the state of the nation's finances," a Cameron spokesperson said.

"In the first instance, the entire question of whether or not there should be a new royal yacht is a question for the palace not the government."

A new yacht is estimated to cost around $92 million (Canadian). While government funding is out of the question, Cameron said he endorsed the idea of a new yacht and would help the royals arrange private-sector financing.

The Guardian has reported that $16 million (10 million pounds) is being promised by Canadian "financial leaders" and another $8 million from a private donation. The idea of a privately-funded yacht for the royals has been floated for some time, with one newspaper, the Daily Mail, launching a campaign last fall.

Gove appealed for a new royal yacht as “something tangible to commemorate” the Queen’s Diamond Jubiliee in 2012.

"In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents," he said.

The opposition Labour party called Gove “out of touch” with the reality of spending cuts going in government spending.

Yacht toronto 1984The Royal Yacht Britannia served the Royal Family for 44 years before being taken out of service and becoming a tourist attraction in Edinburgh. It is currently in dry dock for repairs.

The 125-metre long ship was much prized by the royals, who sailed around the world many times over with its 250-strong crew, including several stops in Toronto (right, in 1984). The last time there was a royal gathering on the ship was last summer when the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, and her fiancé Mike Tindall hosted a pre-wedding party on board.

Since her retirement, the Royal Yacht Britannia has been run by a non-for-profit trust that preserves the boat and keeps it open to the public year-round.

There was a brief scare last week when the ship was preparing to go into drydock for the first time since 1998 and began listing to the one side when there was a leak in one of the doors below the waterline.

Some quick work by crew and firefighters to correct the ballast prevented permanent damage. The month-long stay in drydock is primarily to repair and paint the hull.

The work is expected to ensure the ship can remain afloat for the next 20 to 25 years.

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