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Custodianship of Nelson's flagship HMS Victory is to be handed over to a museum with a £50 million trust fund to ensure its ''preservation for future generations'', the Ministry of Defence announced today.
The world's oldest-commissioned warship, based at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Hampshire, is to be looked after by the neighbouring National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN).
The move is aimed at ensuring the preservation of the 18th century warship as it will allow charitable grants to be spent on the ship for the first time.
The announcement is accompanied by the pledge of a capital grant of £25 million from the Gosling Foundation which is to be matched by the MoD with a further £25 million.
A navy spokesman said: ''This endowment totalling £50 million, with the opportunity of further charitable donations, will ensure that Victory will remain the centrepiece of the nation's maritime heritage, continuing as a commissioned ship of the Royal Navy under her commanding officer and ship's company.''
The spokesman added that Victory will remain the flagship of the Second Sea Lord until, as previously planned, the ship is made the flagship of the First Sea Lord.
The Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery, said:
''The ship has been at the heart of the Royal Navy for centuries and is symbolic of the fighting ethos and values of the service.
"These are as important and relevant in current times, for example in Afghanistan, Libya and the Gulf, as they were at the time of Trafalgar.
''I am absolutely delighted with this initiative.
''It will significantly enhance the way in which Victory can be preserved for the benefit of the nation and future generations, while retaining her links with the Royal Navy.
''She will be in the hands of an organisation which will look after her unique status and has all the professional experience that her continued and enhanced preservation requires.
''On behalf of the service, I am immensely grateful to Sir Donald Gosling and the Gosling Foundation for their generosity in making this possible.''
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, chairman of the NMRN, said:
''This is fantastic news.
''The National Museum of the Royal Navy is the Navy Board's adviser on naval heritage and therefore we are the ideal charity to oversee the trust that will be looking after this world-famous historic warship.
''The headquarters of the NMRN is adjacent to the ship on a site where there has been a naval museum presence for over 100 years and where the ship lies alongside other heritage jewels such as the Mary Rose and HMS Warrior 1860 in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
''The museum's mission is both to educate and enhance the experience of the many millions of visitors to HMS Victory by displaying many of the artefacts relating to the ship and the Battle of Trafalgar.''
Talking of the donation by the foundation in his name, Sir Donald Gosling said:
''HMS Victory is a national icon and I feel privileged that the Gosling Foundation is part of this project to ensure its future for the Royal Navy and for the nation.''
Large-scale maintenance work began on Victory last year after BAE Systems Surface Ships was awarded a £16 million contract for its upkeep.
A Navy spokesman said:
''The contract involves the most extensive restoration since the ship returned from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and has already provided a greater understanding of the material state of the ship than ever.
''This work will continue and become the responsibility of the new trust.''
A 100-gun first-rate ship of the line, Victory was launched in Chatham, Kent, in 1765.
But the ship will remain famous for its role in the Battle of Trafalgar 40 years later and as the place of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's death.
However, in later life Victory was to languish as a training vessel anchored in Portsmouth Harbour until the 1920s when it was restored by the Society for Nautical Research and has since been visited by millions of sightseers from around the world.