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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 19 August, 1998, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
Britannia decommissioned
The Royal Yacht Britannia - built in 1953 - is being decommissioned in Portsmouth on Thursday.

The occasion will be marked by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, who will have their final lunch on board before attending the official paying-off ceremony.

Britannia's future was a talking-point in the run-up to the 1997 general election. Prior to the poll on May 1, the Conservative government announced that Britannia would be retired and replaced with a new yacht.

Labour, however, refused to commit itself and after the party's election victory - and consultations with the Queen - the decision was taken not to replace the yacht. The Government received nine submissions for what to do with Britannia and has now whittled the list down to two proposals - from Edinburgh and Manchester.

A busy last few years

The Queen and President Mandela
Britannia welcomed many foreign dignataries like President Nelson Mandela of South Africa
Britannia was used extensively during its final year. After the handover of Hong Kong back to China in July 1997, Prince Charles and the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten and his family, left the colony on the royal yacht.

Since 1991, it has been used for four state visits and 24 other overseas visits with members of the Royal Family on board.

Britannia carries more than 300 flags for British royalty, 70 for non-British royals, and 400 national flags and ensigns to welcome foreign dignitaries.

Britannia has also been available for hire for commercial activities. Between 1990 and 1996, there were 60 commercial days on board.

Keeping Britannia ship-shape

The 250-strong crew is made up of 229 ratings known as Royal Yachtsmen and 21 officers. They ensure Britannia is always immaculate for its foreign trips.

Britannia's sumptuous interior
Britannia's sumptuous interior
On a typical three month tour the crew will get through 244 tins of brass polish to keep the furnishings gleaming.

Gym shoes are worn by the crew to protect the teak decks and to preserve a regal silence.

The royal quarters take up half Britannia's space. The Queen, her family and staff have the use of 52 cabins.

With a top speed of 22 knots the Britannia is driven by steam and has clocked up more than one million miles - the equivalent of once around the globe for every year of her life.

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