HMS Ark Royal could be converted into hospital ship
Hundreds of jobs could be created at Belfast's shipyard if a novel bid to buy the former flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal, is successful.
Lisburn-based businessman Malcolm McMullen wants to lead the transformation of the decommissioned ship into a humanitarian disaster response ship - and for historic shipyard Harland and Wolff to fit it out.
The ambitious plans worth £365m would be bankrolled by billionaire American businessman Mark D Jones, who has pioneered a process which converts rubble from disaster zones into building materials.
Mr McMullen said that if the bid was successful, Harland and Wolff would be guaranteed the work to transform the vessel into a quick response fully-equipped floating hospital and humanitarian aid supply ship.
Mr McMullen said: "As people are being cured on board, others will be equipped with the means to rebuild their roads and houses."
He said a letter of guarantee worth £365m was in place from Mr Jones, CEO of Stratezyme International, to make the dream transformation of the ship become a reality.
HMS Ark Royal was put up for sale after it was axed by the Government in 2010's Strategic Defence Review.
Currently moored at Portsmouth Naval Base, the ship would accommodate up to eight helicopters and tonnes of fresh water - a vital necessity in the aftermath of disasters.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the project would also benefit Ulster's construction industry. The tendering process ended last month and the MoD is currently considering bids. It would not say how many were received.
Potential uses include as an artificial diving reef off the Devon coast; a heliport for air ambulance and police helicopters in London; a nightclub; a school or casino.
It might even be sold for scrap metal like its sister ship, HMS Invincible.
Mr McMullen said if successful, he would manage the project which would involve marine architects leading the process of fitting the ship out with the essential medical equipment and living accommodation.
He said: "This is a very important project for an awful lot of people in Northern Ireland but especially in Belfast."
Mr McMullen said the timing of the bid, coming as it does in the centenary year of the sinking of the Titanic, is significant.
He said it would be fitting that as so many lives were lost in the disaster, it would be a positive memorial that many others could be saved in the future with the floating hospital.
A Harland and Wolff spokesman confirmed it was looking at the novel proposition in a positive light.
He said: "Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries Ltd has been in contact with a group about the conversion of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Ark Royal for humanitarian purposes.
"H&W fully supports the group's principles and ambitions and looks forward to further discussions in the future should the opportunity develop."
HMS Ark Royal is a decommissioned light aircraft carrier and former flagship of the Royal Navy. She was the third and final vessel of Invincible-class. Affectionately known as The Mighty Ark, she is the fifth Royal Navy ship to have borne the name of the 1587 flagship that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. Slightly larger than her sister ships, and with a steeper ski-jump ramp, Ark Royal carried Harrier Jump Jet aircraft, as well as various helicopters. With a crew of more than 1,000 sailors and aviators, she saw active service in the 1990s Bosnian War and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.