December 1, 2010:
Britain has put its decommissioned (in 2005) 20,000 ton aircraft carrier, HMS Invincible, up for auction at edisposals.com. Five years ago, the Royal Navy said that the ship would be held in reserve until September, 2010, for possible reactivation. That process would take 18 months. However, by last year, Invincible was in a sad state, with its many components removed, and tended to by a detachment of only four sailors. Thus the auction did not come as a big surprise, and the Royal Navy hopes to obtain at least $3 million for the old ship. The Invincible entered service in 1977, and normally carried 18 Sea Harrier vertical takeoff jets, four helicopters and a crew of 1,050. The Invincible underwent a refurbishment in 2004, but cuts in the navy budget forced retirement the next year. Invincible played a vital role in the 1982 Falklands campaign.
Auctions of retired warships are nothing new. Two years ago, a retired Australian Oberon class submarine was up for sale. The city of Hastings, in Victoria state, Australia, got this Oberon (the former HMAS Otama) eight years ago for use as a museum ship. But not enough money could be raised to carry out this plan. So the charitable group that owns the Otama tried auctioning the boat off, in the hope that it would find a good home, and the money obtained would pay off some of the debts incurred in trying to build a museum facility to house the Otama.
The 27 Oberons were built in Britain during the 1960s, The first one of these 2,000 ton diesel-electric boats entered service with Royal Navy, while fourteen were exported (to Australia, Canada, Chile and Brazil). The last of them (the Otama) was retired in 2000. All weapons and military equipment were removed before Hastings got it, but otherwise the boat was afloat and could be restored to a seagoing state. The boat requires a military crew of 62, but a smaller crew (about 30 qualified submariners) would suffice for civilian use. The boat is 95 meters (295 feet) long and 8.5 meters (26.5 feet) wide. With the torpedoes and military electronics removed, there would be quite a bit more room available for the owner's pleasure. However, no one made an acceptable bid. One mysterious group that expressed interest was investigated by police on suspicion of being a front for drug smugglers.
In the past, navies would send retired ships "to the breakers" and receive a portion of the value of the scrap metal obtained when the breakers (the firm that disassembles ships) finished their work. But this is no long profitable in many cases, because taking ships apart in an environmentally correct way costs too much. This has become a problem for navies, that have no easy way to get rid of old ships. The U.S. uses many old ships for target practice and lets them sink at sea. But even this practice is under attack because of potential environmental damage.