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The Queen today said farewell to the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ark Royal in Portsmouth.
The aircraft carrier, which is in its 25th year, is to be taken out of service imminently in the wake of the defence review cuts announced last month.
The decision, along with the early retirement of the Harrier jets, will leave the navy without the capability of launching fixed-wing aircraft from a carrier until replacement ships and aircraft come into service in up to 10 years' time.
The Queen, who travelled down to Portsmouth on a standard passenger train from London Waterloo, which arrived late, was met by the ship's commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd at Portsmouth Naval Base in front of a gathering of the ship's company and their families.
She then took a royal salute, inspected a guard of honour and attended a service of commemoration before going onboard.
Capt Kyd said:
"This event, the 25th anniversary, has been planned for many, many months to celebrate 25 years of loyal service to Queen and country.
"Following the recent announcement that Ark Royal is sadly going to be paid off three years early this event has taken on an added poignancy and we are blessed the Queen is coming down given the news two weeks ago that the Ark Royal is going to be decommissioned.
"This was a shock to us all. We understand the reason for it. However, my ship's company, who are incredibly dedicated and professional, are absolutely loyal to their ship and this decision is a real emotional blow to them.
"But there is a future with our other ships and we will welcome in our new aircraft carriers in four years' time.''
Capt Kyd could not guarantee there would not be redundancies among his crew.
"As part of the defence review, the navy will reduce its numbers by 5,000 towards 2015 and that will mean inevitable redundancies.
"The details are still being worked out and there will be those who will be made redundant.
"However, I am confident my ship's company will be well-managed."
Capt Kyd said it would be an "emotional'' day for the Queen and the ship's company.
"It was the Queen Mother who launched the ship in 1981 and commissioned it in 1985.
"The Queen Mother had a very close connection with Ark Royal. She was our official sponsor and she last visited Ark Royal about 10 years ago and it was her last official engagement before she died.
"For the Queen to know her mother had a real connection with the ship will make this an emotional day for her and for us.
"This day is very much for Ark Royal. We are delighted the Queen is visiting on the 25th anniversary, and it's all about the ship's company, their friends and families.''
Capt Kyd added that he had been informed that the Queen had been asked for her ticket during the train journey to Portsmouth.
"The Queen has just been asked for her ticket.''
The Ark Royal is to sail next week for a farewell tour to Gateshead and the Clyde before returning to Portsmouth for the final time on December 3 before it is decommissioned in the new year.
Capt Kyd said a decision on its future had yet to be decided but explained the options were scrapping, being sold to another country or being used for parts for sister ship HMS Illustrious.
The decision to axe the Ark Royal has been accepted by many experts as "an acceptable price'' for the replacement carriers but the decision to lose the Harriers has been heavily criticised.
Former Ark Royal CO Rear Admiral Terry Loughran, who was at the helm from 1993 to 1994 during the Bosnian conflict, said:
"Ark Royal is the best known ship's name to the nation and it's very sad to see the pride of the fleet go in this way.
"But the ship itself is only steel and its heart is the people in it and that support will live on.
"One has to be realistic in the stringent financial situation we find ourselves at the moment.
"However, it is the scrapping of the Harriers that gives me the greatest concern and highlights that the review is far from strategic.''
Ark Royal was built at the Swan Hunters yard at Wallsend in December 1978 and launched by the Queen Mother.
She also accepted the carrier into service on July 1, 1985, and finally commissioned it into service on November 1, 1985.
The Queen last crossed paths with the Ark Royal when she inspected it as part of an international fleet review held by the Canadian Navy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June.
The Ark Royal last completed a refit in September 2009 at a cost of £12 million.