Former Ipswich schoolboy at helm

PUBLISHED: 15:00 03 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:34 03 March 2010

A FORMER Ipswich schoolboy is at the helm of a multi-million pound warship that has been tipped to play a key role in any military action against Iraq.

A FORMER Ipswich schoolboy is at the helm of a multi-million pound warship that has been tipped to play a key role in any military action against Iraq.

The Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, sailed for the Mediterranean yesterday amid mounting speculation that Britain is gearing up for war against Iraq.

Its skipper, Captain Alan Massey, who attended Northgate School, first started out on a military career as an air cadet in Ipswich's Air Training Corps squadron before joining the navy in 1977 after Liverpool University.

He was given command of Ark Royal in July after captaining its sister ship HMS Illustrious, another aircraft carrier, which assisted operations in Afghanistan late last year.

The father-of-four, who now lives in Portsmouth, stressed the ship was sailing to the Mediterranean for pre-planned exercises.

But he added that it was "quite usual" for aircraft carriers to be redeployed when new contingencies arose.

"This is something that's been planned for a good couple of years now and it's a totally routine deployment," he said.

Ark Royal would be leading a "fairly sizeable" task group, including forces from the Netherlands and Belgium.

"When we get into the Mediterranean we will be working alongside a number of other forces from the region, not just naval forces but also land forces and air forces."

Asked if the Ark Royal could be used if a military strike was launched against Iraq, he said: "We are going out to do these pre-planned exercises and this reflects the government's commitment to security and stability in that region.

"But of course we are, as the aircraft carrier that's on call for the moment for UK, obviously that part of the maritime proportion of the joint rapid reaction forces that have to be ready to do anything."

He added: "At the moment my orders are crystal clear which is to lead my task force group into the Mediterranean, conduct the exercises and then come home around the beginning of November.

"But if anything changes then of course you can be sure that we will be ready for it because part of my underlying requirement here is to make sure that I, as captain of the Ark Royal, am ready to do anything just like any other carrier."

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