The Titanic’s little sister has been left to all but rot away for three years as she awaits decisions on how she will be restored, it has been claimed.
Rupert Keyzar has spent almost three years caring for SS Nomadic, the tender that carried first class passengers onto the Titanic and is to be restored by Nomadic Charitable Trust after she was saved from the scrapyard in 2006.
The Department of Social Development bought and returned Nomadic to Belfast at a cost of £582,000, and the Northern Ireland Audit Office estimates that it will cost £7 million to restore her to her original condition.
After his post as caretaker employed by an outside body ended this week, the Nomadic and historic ships expert said he could no longer stand by, claiming she has been “very, very neglected” since the Nomadic Charitable Trust took over and allowed it to “all but rot away”. Rainwater is running over original mouldings and rivets are corroded, he claimed.
The trust said it would be unwise to spend money on minor issues that would be addressed in the restoration, which cannot begin until the conservation management plan (CMP) is complete.
Mr Keyzar claimed he sent numerous emails and reports raising concerns to trust members, but nothing was done. A survey in April last year showed how the integrity of the hull had changed since a 2003 survey in France.
“The hull was in good condition overall, but there were areas where it had reduced to 4.5mm and one even as low as 3mm,” Mr Keyzar said.
“With most of the bulkheads broken, the ship could have sunk in a few hours had she ever been holed in some way.
“At the wind-water line, there are rivet heads that had cracked up and were falling apart. The whole area was very, very suspect and noticeably worse than when she returned in 2006.
“From the very first meeting I went to in November 2006, one of the first things I said was that because of the amount of rainwater pouring into the ship, the way to avoid this would be to build a protective cover that goes over the entire vessel and would withstand the weather.
“This is in line with National Historic Ship Committee recommendations but has also been ignored,” Mr Keyzar said.
“In the end they went with this totally ineffective cover in the bow that cost £3,000 of taxpayers’ money, for nothing.
“However, this protective cover and framework was removed after it was torn apart by bad weather. The open deck is still rusting away horrendously and there’s rainwater pouring into the ship.
“All of this deterioration of the inside is ruining the original moulding and it could have been stopped if the trust had listened and had a professional cover installed.
“Now she is out of the water rusting will be accelerated, given that the metal is subject to an oxygen atmosphere. Even if the water is evaporated, all the salt in the metal is still there — any kind of moisture is going to reactivate it, even a sea mist.
“With the way things are going this is going to kill the ship’s true potential and therefore the chance for Northern Ireland to have a true world-class attraction.
“The only way to stop this is by making people aware and letting the world know how this project is being handled.”
The Nomadic Charitable Trust said: “We find it surprising that Mr Keyzar should suddenly raise these issues so shortly after his employment on Nomadic has been terminated.
“While we take on board his comments, the trust will continue to work to and be directed by professionally qualified engineers on all technical aspects of the ship’s restoration programme.”
The trust said a professional condition survey carried out earlier this year as part of the CMP deemed the hull to be in good condition. Professional dry dock inspections are done every week and the ship routinely monitored to make sure no major deterioration happens.
“It would be unwise of the trust to spend money on minor issues which will be fully addressed as part of the extensive restoration programme,” a spokesperson said.
“The very small areas of thinning will not have a detrimental effect on the ship due to the timescale of restoration work and further assessments will be undertaken now the ship is in dry dock.
“Environmental requirements dictate that growth on the hull cannot yet be removed and we are working with marine specialists on this matter.
“The restoration work cannot begin until the ongoing conservation management plan is completed, which is expected by the end of this year. This element is essential to ensure that she is professionally restored in line with her elevated status on the Core Collection of the National Register of Historic Vessels.
“In an ideal world, we would have been in a position to restore Nomadic straight away — however, there was significant planning and fundraising required to undertake the project properly.
“We can reassure the public that the project is being managed professionally and sensitively.”