Drilling rig dredges Portsmouth for aircraft carriers

Drilling rig Some drilling will cause disruption to residents

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A large drilling rig is expected to arrive in Portsmouth later this week as part of preparations for the navy's new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers.

Major dredging of the harbour is needed to accommodate the ships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

The rig, called Deep River, will drill 27 bore holes to a depth of 32m (104ft) with dredging set to start in 2014/15.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to enter service around 2020 with HMS Prince of Wales kept in reserve.

The drilling rig will operate 24 hours a day and will be brightly lit.

It will need to drill five holes in the harbour which is likely to cause disruption, with 50 residents in Spice Island informed of the likely impact.

Auction website

To fit the ships, the existing channels need to be widened and deepened with the berths at the base excavated.

Capt Iain Greenlees, who is in charge of the project, said the work would build on existing understanding of the geology of the harbour and its approaches.

He added: "Work so far has identified this to be the route which balances best navigational safety, the lowest environmental impact and cost.

Computer generated image of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are being built, but one will be mothballed

"The analysis of these final bore holes will complete our detailed understanding of the work that will be required."

The new carriers, which will replace HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal, were saved in the government's strategic defence review in October 2010.

HMS Invincible, mothballed in 2005, was sold through an internet auction site to a Turkish scrapyard last year, while HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned in 2011 and is currently for sale.

Devon-based dive group Wreck the World wants to buy it to sink it and turn it into a diving wreck.

HMS Illustrious will be decommissioned in 2014.

This means no planes will be able to fly from British aircraft carriers until around 2020, when HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to enter service.

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