The battle to save historic warship HMS Caroline has ended with a victory for campaigners after it was announced she will remain in Belfast.
The 98-year-old vessel — the last floating survivor of the pivotal Battle of Jutland in 1916 — will now be restored into a “world class” visitor attraction.
The Belfast Telegraph first revealed the future of the ship was in doubt over concerns about the cost of maintaining it.
The vessel, which has been in the city since 1924, had fallen into disrepair and it was estimated it could cost around £5m to bring it up to standard and £250,000-a-year to maintain it.
A number of high-profile personalities — including journalist Jon Snow — backed the 12-month campaign to save it from being moved and possibly scrapped.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has now pledged £1m which will help secure its future.
The joint statement was made by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Ministry of Defence and Northern Ireland Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment.
It is expected the ship will open to the public by 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.
The National Museum’s director general, Professor Dominic Tweddle, said it is delighted.
“We are grateful to the MoD for gifting the ship to us and to DETI for the commitment it has made to the vessel’s restoration and eventual presentation to the public,” he said.
Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Francois, said HMS Caroline has now been secured for future generations.
“This is one of the most historic fighting ships in the world, one which played a role in a battle which was decisive in the outcome of the First World War.
“It was critical that the ship was made accessible to the public.”
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the process of bringing HMS Caroline back to her former glory can now begin.
“Over the last year there has been a significant effort, from myself and others, to find a solution to keeping HMS Caroline here.”
The department has also set aside up to £100,000 towards remedial work this year on the ship.
Jenny Abramsky, chair of the NHMF, said: “Our pledge of £1m will now enable urgent repairs to take place and make a long-term solution possible for this important national treasure.”
Mrs Foster added that the ship now has the potential to become a “must see” attraction for local visitors and tourists alike.
“The ship is of outstanding national significance and has huge potential as a visitor experience.”
HMS Caroline was built at Birkenhead in 1914 and was one of the fastest warships of its time. The light cruiser measures 128m and was capable of a top speed of 28.5 knots. She is the last survivor of the Grand Fleet that fought in the 1916 Battle of Jutland against the Germans. Caroline came to Belfast in 1924 and acted as a floating administrative base in World War II. During the summer the ship's Portsmouth-based owners issued an ultimatum to the Stormont Executive warning that Caroline would be moved to a dockyard in Portsmouth if ministers did not step up to the mark.