Construction of the polar research ship Sir David Attenborough, which will explore the deepest waters of the Antarctic, is due to start on Monday with the laying of the vessel’s keel in Merseyside.
A competition to name the ship caused controversy earlier this year when voters overwhelmingly backed Boaty McBoatface, only for officials to override the outcome of the poll.
Boaty McBoatface received 124,109 votes, four times more than second-placed Poppy-Mai, the name of a 16-month-old girl with incurable cancer.
But the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that the ship’s name would honour the British broadcaster and naturalist in his 90th birthday year, christening it RRS (royal research ship) Sir David Attenborough.
Boaty McBoatface will be used instead as the name of a high-tech sub on board the £200m RRS Sir David Attenborough, the world’s most advanced seaborne laboratory. NERC said the autonomous underwater vehicle would explore ice sheets to depths of 6,000m and was able to remain at sea for many months at a time.
Construction of the ship will officially start on Monday at a ceremony attended by Attenborough himself at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead.
Attenborough will begin the keel-laying process by lifting the first 100-tonne hull unit by crane to the construction berth. This unit includes part of the ship’s keel and bottom shell plating and is the first of 97 units that will form the hull of the research ship.
The keel-laying ceremony is a tradition that formally marks the start of a ship’s construction and is said to bring luck.
Ministers hope that from 2019 the RRS Sir David Attenborough will provide a research base to help scientists tackle climate change, rising sea levels and the impact of environmental change on marine life.
The universities and science minister, Jo Johnson, said: “The RRS Sir David Attenborough, with Boaty McBoatface operated from her as a robotic underwater vehicle, will be one of the most advanced research ships in the world. It will help inspire the next generation of scientists in the UK and build on our status as one of the world’s leading nations in polar science, engineering and technology.”
The construction work will create more than 460 jobs and apprenticeships in Merseyside, ministers say.
Attenborough said: “I have had several opportunities to experience the power of these places first hand. This new ship will ensure that scientists have access to these enigmatic regions to uncover secrets that we can only imagine at this point. Scientists working on this new ship will inform everyone about our changing world for generations to come.”
The £200m cost is the largest government investment in Antarctic and Arctic science infrastructure since the 1980s and will enable the UK research community to conduct world-leading polar research for the next 25 years. The funding also covers the development of projects to support the ship’s work, including construction of a new wharf at Rothera, the largest British Antarctic research station.