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Competition Begins for Construction of UK’s New National Flagship

construction bids for UK flagship
Rendering of the national flagship (UK Prime Minister's Office)

Published Jul 28, 2021 7:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK launched the competition for the construction of its new national flagship calling for bids from British shipbuilders for the project. Speaking at the National Flagship Engagement Day event in historic Greenwich, England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed his critics saying the vessel will help Britain to show off around the world.

Announced in May 2021 to serve as a global trade mission and British flagship the vessel was originally projected in 2019 to cost £120 million (approximately $167 million) the cost estimates have risen to between £200 and £250 million (approximately $270 and $350 million) turning the vessel into a political issue. Critics are calling the ship a distraction and waste of British taxpayers’ money with the Labour Party threatening to scrap the project while the Prime Minister says it will be a symbol of national pride and will be used to attract foreign investment. 

The competition for the construction bids officially opened today, July 28, and is scheduled to run till October. The bidding and construction are being overseen by the Ministry of Defense, which issued the formal invitation to tender. The government is positioning the ship as a military vessel to get around rules requiring that the bidding be opened to the international shipbuilding community. The Ministry of Defense says that the vessel is officially part of the navy and will be crewed by 80 Royal Navy sailors.

“Our new National Flagship will be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of our upcoming National Shipbuilding Strategy,” said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace speaking today at the event in Greenwich. “Now, that may sound whimsical or an exaggeration, but I want to be clear – this is not just a flag ship but a flagship project to showcase to the country and the world just what British shipbuilding is capable of – innovative design, competitive build, quality service.”

Wallace said that he wants the vessel to be at the vanguard of the 21st century shipping technology including being as green as possible. He, however, also sought to set the record straight on the vessel addressing media reports of cost overruns of 25 percent or more on the project even before a contract is selected. 

“Subject to working through bids, competition, and technology, I aim to commission the ship for between £200 and £250 million on a firm price,” Wallace said in his address. “The competition will run until the end of October. I hope to announce the winners in December. To begin construction in a British shipyard as early as next year and have a ship in the water by 2024 or 2025. That’s an ambitious timescale, but this is an ambitious project – the chance to break the mold and break some records to get things done in the national interest.”

The new flagship is being billed as a successor to Britain’s famed Royal Yacht Britannia that served as the home of HM Queen Elizabeth II from its commissioning in 1954 until its retirement in 1997. During that time, it also served as a floating embassy, conducted humanitarian missions in the name of the Queen, and also served as a trade mission. Despite speculation in the British media that the new vessel would be named Duke of Edinburgh or Prince Philip in honor of the former navy commander and consort of the Queen, unofficial reports from the royal staff suggest that Britain’s royal family is “distancing themselves from the project,” according to London’s Sunday Times.