HMS Prince of Wales departs Portsmouth to join Nato rapid response task force

Well-wishers have waved off Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it sailed for the first time as the head of Nato’s rapid response task force.

The 65,000-tonne warship was appointed the command ship of Nato’s Maritime High Readiness Force at a ceremony held onboard at Portsmouth Naval Base on Tuesday.

It sailed from the Hampshire port on Wednesday ahead of a series of major exercises with Nato to be held throughout the year, starting with a Norwegian-led exercise.

HMS Prince of Wales
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales passes the Round Tower in Portsmouth Harbour (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The UK has taken over from France to run the task force, which was formed to deal with major global incidents.

The task force will be run for the next 12 months by Commander UK Strike Force – the most senior sea-going staff of the Royal Navy, headed by Rear Admiral Mike Utley.

Rear Admiral Utley said: “Nato is the cornerstone of the UK defence and our commitment to the alliance is absolute, and it is a privilege to be the UK Maritime Component Commander moving into our vital role this year.

HMS Prince of Wales
For the next year, the warship will serve as the Nato command vessel (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“The Royal Navy is global, modern, ready and well-placed to support Nato in all its endeavours.”

A navy spokesman said: “As well as a test of the battle staff, it will be the first test of HMS Prince of Wales since the carrier was declared fully operational at the beginning of autumn following two intensive years of trials and training.”

Captain Steve Higham, HMS Prince of Wales’ commanding officer, said: “This year, as the Nato command ship, we will spend over 200 days at sea operating globally with our allies.”