The Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, will be visiting Malta on Tuesday for what promises to be a unique event.

Her return coincides with the conclusion of a twinning agreement between the ship and the Three Cities, which will formalise the close bond shared for over 60 years.

Commanding Officer Captain Steve Chick said: "It is a privilege for me to be able to come to Malta, which is widely regarded as Illustrious' second home, and thank the Maltese people, and the Three Cities in particular, for the support that they gave the last HMS Illustrious during the most trying of times."

The twinning ceremony itself is a first - no other Royal Navy ship has ever twinned with a town or city outside the UK.

Captain Chick said: "It's well known in the Royal Navy that the entry into Grand Harbour is something special to behold; I heard that the last time Illustrious visited there were thousands lining the harbour watching us come in. I hope that a similar number will be able to welcome us this time; we'll certainly do our best to put on a good show."

The vessel will arrive in Grand Harbour at 10 a.m. and it will be firing a three-gun salute in honour of the Three Cities.

Due to its short four-day visit, the ship will not be open to visitors but invitations have been sent to many specialised groups, including engineering students, officer cadets and sea cadets.

HMS Illustrious will also use this visit to deliver six Maltese army trucks recently acquired from the British Army.

"This is a great thing to be doing at the time of our training. It captures the spirit of the fourth Illustrious' relationship with Malta, when she was critical in the protection of the Malta convoys during the Second World War," said one of the ship's officers, Commander Peter Coulson.

During this time, Malta and Illustrious were heavily bombed, both sustaining severe damage. The battle-damaged bell from the fourth Illustrious is held on board the current aircraft-carrier.

HMS Illustrious will leave Malta on Friday to continue with its Orion 08 deployment. The operation is a multi-national maritime task group centred on the Royal Navy strike aircraft carrier.

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