Queen at 90
Sir David Attenborough said the new ship was a major step forward for scientists. Ben Stansall/AFP

Construction on Britain's new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, began on Monday (17 October) when the vessel's keel was laid at the legendary Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead.

The construction of the £200m ($243.4m) boat, the largest government investment in Antarctic and Arctic science infrastructure in almost three decades, is expected to create 460 jobs and apprenticeships on Merseyside.

Cammell Laird's managing director, Linton Roberts, said the deal was an important milestone for the company and for the British shipbuilding industry as a whole.

"It's another chapter in the yard's history," he said.

"We've built every conceivable type of ship over the last 200 years. Obviously, we've come through a period when British shipbuilding has been in the doldrums, but we're fighting our way back and we see the RRS Sir David Attenborough as a breakout vessel to get us right up there into the top tier."

The ship, which is expected to become operational by 2019, will replace the UK's existing polar fleet – the RRS James Clark Ross and the RRS Ernest Shackleton.

Earlier this year, the ship surged to notoriety after a poll to name the vessel saw an overwhelming majority of voters back Boaty McBoatface as preferred name. Some 124,109 people voted in favour of the name, but officials eventually overrode the result and opted to name the boat after the British broadcaster and naturalist.

"I know that the work they will be doing onboard the new polar ship will be important, not only for science but for the whole world, because what happens down in the Antarctic is crucial for what happens to the climate of the Earth," Attenborough said.

"I have had several opportunities to experience the power of these places first hand. This new ship will ensure that scientists have access to these enigmatic regions to uncover secrets that we can only imagine at this point. Scientists working on this new ship will inform everyone about our changing world for generations to come."

An autonomous submarine deployed by the ship will be named Boaty McBoatface instead.

The universities and science minister, Jo Johnson, said she hoped the new ship would provide scientists with a platform to challenge climate change and rising sea levels.

"The RRS Sir David Attenborough, with Boaty McBoatface operated from her as a robotic underwater vehicle, will be one of the most advanced research ships in the world," she said.

"It will help inspire the next generation of scientists in the UK and build on our status as one of the world's leading nations in polar science, engineering and technology."