Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said he may consider scheduling HMS Caroline as an historic monument.
The minister said he cannot list the historic warship as it is not a building, but it could be afforded statutory protection as a scheduled historic monument under the provision of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order.
But he warned that this may not guarantee any extra funding from the Department of the Environment, as it already has many competing demands.
Campaigners are battling to keep the First World War light cruiser in its Belfast berth. It is the last remaining British warship to have served in the Battle of Jutland and was the headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Northern Ireland for more than 80 years before it was decommissioned last year.
It is understood that the vessel could be moved to Portsmouth or may even be broken up for scrap if its future in Belfast is not assured.
Mr Attwood said: “HMS Caroline is certainly an important, historic vessel. It was one of the oldest commissioned vessels in the Royal Navy, and it is the only known First World War light cruiser that is still afloat.” The minister said officials have advised him that the special protection afforded by listing cannot be extended to a vessel such as Caroline.
“I am further advised, however, that the vessel could, potentially, be afforded statutory protection as a scheduled historic monument.
“It would certainly be good to see HMS Caroline as part of Belfast’s heritage offering, with the overall contribution that that can bring to our economy, and I will continue to explore how my department can best contribute to that in a positive way,” he added.