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Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 03:31 GMT 04:31 UK


Navy's biggest ship prepares for action

HMS Ocean at its commissioning in Plymouth last year

The Royal Navy's largest warship is to be deployed close to the Mediterranean in readiness for possible involvement in the Kosovo conflict.

The 20,500-tonne HMS Ocean - a helicopter-carrier and the navy's newest vessel - is to head for the region later this month along with five other ships.

Kosovo: Special Report
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence denied, however, a report this was part of preparations for a land war in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

The Sunday Telegraph said the plan to send Ocean to the area on 11 May was a "sign that Nato commanders are preparing for a land war" in the Balkans.

The newspaper said the Ocean was designed as an offshore platform for launching a massive helicopter-borne invasion of enemy territory.

But the MoD spokesman said the Ocean was taking part in a long-planned training exercise with a "minor change in the programme".

Brits in Balkans
Instead of the western Atlantic, the exercise would now take place in the western Mediterranean seaboard of the eastern Atlantic, he said, adding it would not actually go into the Mediterranean Sea.

"The exercise has been planned for a year now," the spokesman said, adding that "it does not imply plans to deploy in support of Operation Allied Force in the Adriatic" - the Nato air campaign against Yugoslavia.

"The deployment comprises six ships, with the Royal Marine commando group, helicopters and associated support elements," he said.

"The purpose is to exercise HMS Ocean in embarking and disembarking an amphibious landing force in a variety of operational environments."

The 994ft long ship is 1,000 tonnes bigger than the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

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