Belfast Telegraph

Stormont to throw World War One vessel a £100,000 lifeline

By Chris Kilpatrick

The campaign to save HMS Caroline has been buoyed after an Assembly Member said that £100,000 is to be spent on restoration work on the famous World War I warship.

The future of the historic ship — which has been in Belfast since 1924 — has been in limbo over concerns about the cost of maintaining it.

East Belfast DUP MLA Robin Newton said the money for the upkeep of the vessel was revealed at a meeting of Stormont’s enterprise, trade and investment committee on Thursday.

“This is a longed-for and long-awaited investment to cover the costs of essential repair and maintenance work,” he said.

“HMS Caroline is a vessel with a distinguished naval history and a long connection to Belfast.

“The Enterprise Minister has taken a very positive step along the road of the ship’s full restoration.”

Over recent years HMS Caroline has fallen into disrepair, and estimates suggest it could cost around £5m to bring it up to standard and £250,000-a-year to maintain it.

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. The Ministry of Defence had earmarked August 1 for a final decision on the future of the 98-year-old vessel — the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Since then a number of high profile politicians, including Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, have pledged their support, and a number of high-level meetings have taken place.

Caroline just escaped being scrapped after owners — the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) — confirmed it had been granted a period of grace to allow for further discussions.

“HMS Caroline is a strong and distinctive part of the Titanic Quarter,” added Mr Newton.

“It is also an integral part of Belfast’s maritime history, having served as a Naval Reserve training ship for many years. Scores of young people took their first steps to a naval career through training on HMS Caroline.

“This type of professional and specialist training and the discipline that goes with it has served countless young people from across Belfast and beyond well.

“With a distinguished naval history, the ship has now the potential to become a tourism feature and a must see item for local visitors and tourists alike.

“I welcome minister Foster’s foresight in making this investment and look forward to seeing the ship fully restored.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment was unavailable for comment last night.

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