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The largest warship built for the Royal Navy now has its first crew members - around eight years before it is fully operational.
Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of two 65,000-tonne ships under construction for the Navy, is being assembled in Rosyth, Fife. She will eventually be based in Portsmouth.
Leading Hand Claire Butler, 29, from Middlesbrough, is the first member of crew to join the ship, which is not expected to be ready to deploy until 2020. She is one of eight staff selected as the first ship's company to board during the assembly process.
Rear Admiral Steve Brunton presented Ms Butler with the first "cap tally" band for her hat with the carrier's name on it.
She said: "Becoming the first member of the Royal Navy to wear this cap tally is a fantastic honour. My main task will be to set up the routines and procedures that will allow the rest of the crew to do their jobs. We are all well trained and, as a team, will make sure this warship becomes operational and helps to safeguard the world's oceans."
Six shipyards around the UK are involved in building various parts of the ship, which are ultimately being assembled in Fife. Around 10,000 people have worked on the construction at various stages. Bosses believe the ship, which will have 1,600 crew members when fully operational, will head to Portsmouth in 2017, with flying trials beginning in 2018 and deployment possible two years later.
Captain Simon Petitt said the arrival of the first crew will help to bring the ship to life, and means it can be up and running as soon as possible. Speaking at the site, he said:
"Today is the first day that the ship's company arrives in the dockyard to start to breathe life into the ship. You can see a fantastic ship being built, but it's people that matter. ``We're here to build the ship's company, learn how to use the ship, start to do some training and put in place procedures so that we can fly jets off it in 2018. ``She's an amazingly complex ship in terms of size and capacity so it's tremendously important we get all the procedures in place before the ship goes out. We want to make sure that we can operate it as soon as we can.''
Capt Petitt said much of the ship is already extensively fitted out.
"She's wonderful. Because she's built in various parts of the country, inside she's painted, there's pipework in place and there's cabling in place. The bakery has the ovens, the mixers and all the things you'd expect to see in a bakery. There are bits of the ship which are hugely advanced. This is the largest ship we have ever built and that's why we need to be here early so that we can start to look at it properly and think how we can operate it. She'll be in service for 30, 40, 50 years, protecting the seaways, protecting all of our interests.''
Capt Petitt's team are the first sailors to join an HMS Queen Elizabeth since a dreadnought-class battleship of the same name launched in 1913. When finished, the warship will be 280 metres (920ft) long, 70 metres (230ft) wide and 56 metres (184ft) high from keel to masthead, four metres (13ft) taller than Niagara Falls.
Rear Admiral Brunton said he is pleased with how the ship is progressing. "At the moment you see about half the ship. We've got some major block moves still to come later this year, but very quickly into 2013 we will have the complete ship here at Rosyth and we will be leaving the assembly work and setting to work on the systems inside. I'm here most weeks and I'm pleased to see how the progress is going.''
The ship is very important to the future of the Royal Navy and defence in general, he insisted.
"This isn't just a naval asset, this is a joint asset for the country and the Government to use, able to move people and aircraft around the world and used in a variety of different scenarios. It is a large programme. It's a large engineering endeavour across the UK. We've already started to build HMS Prince of Wales, the second ship, and many of the ship's systems are being tested ashore ready to be brought on board. So it's exciting times.''
The ships are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a partnership between BAE Systems, Thales UK, Babcock and the MoD.