Ceremony Welcomes Back HMS Illustrious

A ceremony has been held at sea to mark the return to the Royal Navy fleet of the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious following a £40 million upgrade.

The re-dedication ceremony took place in the ship's hangar while the 22,000 tonne ship was off the UK coast.

The event, which normally takes place at the ship's home port, was held at sea to follow in Lusty's tradition of being welcomed into the fleet at sea.

The carrier was originally commissioned in 1982 as it crossed the Atlantic to support the Falklands conflict.

The latest ceremony involved the entire 700 ship's company with accompaniment for several hymns provided by the ship's volunteer band.

In keeping with naval tradition the ceremony concluded with the cutting of a rededication cake by the youngest sailor on board, 18-year-old Chef Lewis Steel.

The ship emerged from a 16-month refit in Scotland in June having being converted to the helicopter carrier role and has just successfully completed two months of training and assessment off the south west coast of England.

Illustrious is the second of three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The other two were Ark Royal and Invincible.

The ceremony was the final act for the ship's commanding officer (CO), Captain Jerry Kyd, who hands over command to Captain Martin Connell in the New Year.

Captain Kyd, who was the final CO of Ark Royal, said: ''It has been a very busy and demanding year regenerating this fine ship from sailing from refit in Scotland in June to now being ready for whatever the Government wants us to do around the world.

''The ship's company have been brilliant as always and I tremendously proud of what they have achieved in the last year. Illustrious is back, ready for action.''

Over the past six months Apache, Merlin, Chinook, Sea King and Lynx helicopters have operated from the ship's flight deck and up to 150 Royal Marine commandos at a time have embarked for amphibious assault exercises.

HMS Illustrious will take over from HMS Ocean, which is due for a refit, as the UK's high readiness helicopter and commando carrier in the New Year.

When Ocean returns in 2014, Illustrious will be withdrawn from service following the exit of its sister ships Invincible and Ark Royal.