THE Royal Navy’s last remaining helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious will be open to the public today during her final visit to the River Mersey.
The 22,000 tonne ship, affectionately known as Lusty, has docked at Liverpool cruise terminal, where she will stay until her departure on Monday.
Thousands of people were expected to climb aboard the vessel this weekend and explore her decks before she is withdrawn from service.
The light aircraft carrier is sister ship to the now decommissioned Ark Royal and Invincible, which both visited Liverpool several times for major Royal Navy and city events.
Commanding officer Captain Martin Connell said: "Liverpool is a very special place for a ship such as HMS Illustrious to visit and we always receive a very warm welcome indeed."
Today visitors will be able to go onboard from 10am to 4pm and tomorrow from 12pm to 4pm. On both days, the latest time visitors can board is 3pm.
Last night 270 guests and dignitaries were invited on board with the Royal Marines Band (Scotland) who played Beat Retreat and during the ceremonial sunset.
The ship’s visit was the forerunner to a weekend of events over May 24 to 27, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.
Commodore Richard Baum, Royal Navy northern regional commander, said: "The Royal Navy is very proud to enjoy a long-standing association with the city of Liverpool and in particular is delighted to be involved in helping the city commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.
"The visit by HMS Illustrious to the city signifies the start of the build- up to that commemoration."
Cllr Wendy Simon, the council’s cabinet member for culture and tourism, added: "When HMS Liverpool visited last year around 9,000 people took the opportunity to board her and as HMS Illustrious is one of the Royal Navy’s extremely recognisable ships we are expecting thousands to flock to the cruise liner terminal."
The ECHO is giving away this free print (left) to commemorate the visit of HMS Illustrious to Liverpool with every copy of the ECHO purchased in Liverpool and Wirral while stocks last. Visit liverpoolecho.co.uk for a list of selected retailers.
Copies will also be given away with the ECHO by teams on Princes Parade today from 9am-5pm and tomorrow from 11am-4pm.