03 June 2012

Save Our Ship... fight on to sink plans to scrap HMS Caroline

Last survivor of Jutland could boost city’s tourism

The HMS Caroline which is docked at Alexandra Dock. 
The ship was built 2 years after the Titanic
Time is running out to save one of Northern Ireland’s maritime treasures.

HMS Caroline will be scrapped and turned into razor blades.

Now a campaign has been launched calling on the Department of Trade and Investment (DETI) to restore and retain the WWI warship — the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland — as a tourist attraction in Belfast.

But with a Royal Navy deadline of August 1, activists are facing a battle against the clock.

“It is important that we move quickly on the issue to make sure that Caroline remains in Belfast,” said maritime historian and former Alliance leader Sean Neeson (right), who sits on the National Historic Ships Committee.

“We would be appealing to the Stormont Executive to consider the importance of retaining the vessel. I believe the ship could be saved if there was cross-departmental co-operation, as has happened in the case of the SS Nomadic.”

The Navy will scrap HMS Caroline on August 1 unless someone steps in to save it.

DETI is currently considering the results of an economic appraisal, but there are fears that Stormont may be moving too slowly to secure its future.

“It is important to keep HMS Caroline in Northern Ireland because she has played a very important role in naval matters in Northern Ireland since 1924,” added Mr Neeson.

“You only have to look at the interest in the centenary of the Titanic; HMS Caroline could be an important part of the maritime trail in the Titanic Quarter.”

Initial estimates suggest it could cost around £5m to bring HMS Caroline up to standard, with a further £250k-a-year to maintain it. However, it is hoped the ship could become revenue-generating through ticket sales and hosting corporate events.

A DETI spokeswoman said: “The department has been working for some time now to find the best solution for HMS Caroline and has met with various stakeholders who are also keen to have HMS Caroline retained in Belfast.

An economic appraisal which considered the options around the ship has been finalised and discussions with the Royal Navy are ongoing.”

HMS Caroline was built in 1914 and was one of the fastest warships of its time. It is the last survivor of the fleet that fought in the 1916 Battle of Jutland.

It came to Belfast in 1924 and acted as a floating administrative base during WWII.

It later becoming headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Northern Ireland. It was formally decommissioned by the MoD when the Reserves moved to Thiepval barracks in Lisburn in March 2011.

Mr Neeson said: “She is in urgent need of repairs to be carried out on her and the big issue is funding.

“It is important to keep HMS Caroline in Northern Ireland because she has played a very important role in naval matters in Northern Ireland since 1924.

“She was the training headquarters for the Royal Navy Reserves in Northern Ireland but they have moved to HMS Hibernia in Lisburn (not a ship). I believe considerable funding could be generated if the ship is used for corporate events and also opened to the public as well.

“We are developing a tourist market in Northern Ireland and I believe that HMS Caroline would be very important to that market — in the same way that HMS Belfast is in London.”

More than 90% of HMS Caroline is original. But around 400 artefacts have been removed and are in temperature controlled storage in Portsmouth.

At the time of her decommission the commanding officer Martin Quinn said: “The Royal Navy’s preference would be to leave her here in Belfast. What we see is the ship being part of a maritime heritage trail created with local government and local authorities.”

East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland said it was important to retain Caroline.

He said: “In terms of tourism, where else in the world could you go to see the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland?”

Source: By Lesley-Anne McKeown. 30 May 2012

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