MARCH 12 2011 08:29h

Last British carrier decommissioned

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PORTSMOUTH, England, March 12 (UPI) -- The band played the Navy hymn, "Eternal Father, strong to save," as the white ensign on the British carrier HMS Ark Royal was hauled down Friday.

The decommissioning ceremony took place in the Ark Royal's home port, Portsmouth, the BBC reported. A stiff breeze lifted the collars of the sailors' uniforms as they stood at attention.

At the end, the 150 remaining in the crew were told: "Ark Royal, for the last time, dismissed."

The Ark Royal, which went into service in 1985, was the last of the three Invincible-class aircraft carriers in service. The carrier was involved in combat operations in the Balkans and Iraq and carried stranded travelers across the English Channel when a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded airplanes.

Britain will have no naval vessels that can handle fixed-wing aircraft until the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers come into service by 2020.

The carrier was the fifth ship named Ark Royal. The first was the flagship of the fleet that fought the Spanish Armada in 1588, while the others were carriers, beginning with a merchant vessel converted for military use in World War I.