The Ministry of Defence fashed fresh embarrassment today as it was revealed that HMS Ark Royal, the Royal Navy's most iconic vessel, was seized temporarily by a group of schoolchildren while moored off Gibraltar.
Captain of the Ark Royal, Cornelius Crumb RN, 53, had invited the boys and girls, aged between 5 and 12, to a fancy dress party in the Wardroom with a 'Peter Pan theme'. Due to a breakdown in internal communications, the ratings were not informed of the festivities and the sight of seemingly armed and dangerous midget pirates charging up the gangplank induced sudden panic.
"It was chaos!" revealed Sub-Lieutenant Harry Shawcross, duty officer at the time of the debacle. "Several midshipmen surrendered immediately and the Medical Officer mutinied. The kids couldn't believe their luck and forced the Bosun to walk the plank. One of them had even brought a parrot on board that kept squawking, 'Spread your cheeks, laddie'!"
As many Navy personnel fled to lower decks, the children replaced the Red Ensign with the skull and crossbones and, having locked Captain Crumb and a civilian puppeteer called Mr. Wiggle in the airing cupboard, claimed command of the ship. Royal Naval Police refused to intervene on Health & Safety grounds and the ensuing stand-off lasted several hours.
At 18:30 GMT, the deadlock was broken when the children's mothers were summoned by the Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Ramsbotham Farquaharson. On pain of being sent to bed early with no television, the children relinquished control at once.
A relieved Mr. Wiggle, interviewed on GibTV, spoke of his delight at being released. "It felt like 'Lord of the Flies'. Those kids were incredibly scary, particularly one little girl who was waving a sword around and demanding to meet 'Jedward'."
Captain Crumb declined to comment, but Bob Ainsworth, Defence Secretary, defended the Navy's actions in an emergency statement in the Commons.
"The crew fully complied with standing orders and showed exemplary fortitude in the face of this sudden and unexpected attack," said 'Bollocks' Bob. "The rules of engagement specifically prohibit defending the ship from attack by pirates of restricted growth. After all, we don't want them claiming asylum in the UK: there are only so many circus vacancies, ha, ha..."
Lord Mandelson, asked for his opinion by The Guardian newspaper for no apparent reason, remarked obliquely, "I've always been fully behind our seamen and refuse to castigate them for one unfortunate slip."
Shadow Defence Secretary, Dr. Liam Fox, expressed his disgust: "The Navy is a shambles. I'm only surprised the Captain hasn't reported being attacked by a crocodile."
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that no disciplinary action would be pursued against those involved.