- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2016

RSS Boaty McBoatface could be conducting polar research on behalf of the British government if the Internet has anything to do with it.

The U.K’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) appealed to the public for help naming its new $290 million research vessel, but a joke suggestion floated by a former BBC presenter is currently far and away the most popular choice.

Four days after putting a “name our ship” poll on its website, more than 27,000 votes have been cast for “RSS Boaty McBoatface” as of Monday morning.

James Hand, a communications director formerly employed by BBC, said he “thought nothing of it” when he proposed the name last Thursday.

“I read the list of entries and there were about 3,000 at the time,” he told BBC. Some of them were really really funny. Clifford the Big Red Boat was my favorite. So I thought I’d throw one into the ring to see what happens.

“It’s only when I got home and someone tweeted me and said Boaty McBoatface is leading by 500 and then by Friday night it was leading by a couple of thousand,” he said. “Then, by the time the site eventually crashed yesterday, it was leading by about 8,000. It’s been quite a strange weekend.”

Mr. Hand’s not-so-serious suggestion had been beating out other options — such as naming the ship after late British explorer Lt. Col. Alastair Edward Henry Worsley, or 89-year-old BBC legend Sir David Frederick Attenborough — but results couldn’t be viewed Monday afternoon because NERC’s website was down, reportedly as a result of a surge in traffic caused by the commotion over RSS Boaty McBoatface.

“I’ve actually been speaking to the people behind the website,” Mr. Hand said. “I’ve been apologizing profusely. It’s actually nothing to do with me. It was my suggestion but the storm that has been created, it’s got legs of its own. The website has been updated and it’s got a new server apparently.”

Alison Robinson, NERC’s director of corporate affairs, said in a statement that the agency is “delighted by the enthusiasm and creativity” of people who have suggested names for the research ship, which isn’t expected to set sail until 2019.

“We are pleased that people are embracing the idea in a spirit of fun. We have suggested some criteria for the name on our website and the final decision will be announced in due course. We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” she said.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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