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HRH visits HMS Astute in Barrow-in-Furness

21st October 2008

The Duchess of Cornwall today visited the Royal Navy's largest and most powerful submarine, HMS Astute.

As Lady Sponsor of HMS Astute, The Duchess named the nuclear-powered submarine on 8th June 2007, in front of more than 10,000 people at the BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and today became the first member of the Royal Family to step on board.

Her Royal Highness was given a private tour of the submarine by Commander Mike Walliker, who captains the vessel.

The Duchess then met members of the submarine's crew and their families at the BAE shipyard.

HMS Astute is the first submarine built in the United Kingdom since HMS Vengeance, which was built in 1998.

Weighing 7,400 tonnes - the equivalent of nearly 1,000 double-decker buses - Astute is more powerful than any previous attack submarine.

It is one of four nuclear-powered submarines being built at the BAE Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness.

It is currently being tested at Barrow before being released into active service next summer.

Commander Mike Walliker said The Duchess visited the ship's accommodation, galley and weapons storage compartments during her one-hour tour.

He added: "The highlight of the tour was that she could fire a 'water shot'.

"She was able to push the button that in a James Bond film would be the big red one that says 'fire' on it and fire a slug of water out of the torpedo tube."

The Duchess also presented Chief Petty Officer David O'Neill with a Gulf War medal and presented Warrant Office Medical Assistant James Drew with the "man of the boat" award in recognition of his outstanding service as part of HMS Astute's crew.

Commander Walliker said The Duchess had agreed to present the "man of the boat" award annually from this year onwards.

Her Royal Highness also received a cheque for £3,000, raised by the Astute crew for the charity Barnardo's, of which she is President.

During the short awards ceremony, Commander Walliker also gave The Duchess a wooden box engraved with the Astute emblem.

HMS Astute, along with HMS Audacious, Ambush and Artful, will support the Navy's Vanguard class submarines - whose Trident nuclear missiles carry Britain's nuclear deterrent.

The submarines will also gather intelligence from the shore and have the capacity to attack other submarines, warships and land-based targets.

Astute is also a technological phenomenon: its nuclear reactor means that it will not need refuelling once in its entire 25-year life and it makes its own air and water, enabling it to circumnavigate the globe without needing to surface.