The last floating survivor of a pivotal First World War sea battle will probably be decommissioned by the end of the year, the Royal Navy has confirmed.
HMS Caroline, which has been moored in Belfast since 1924, needs around £3.5 million worth of refurbishment but the Royal Navy says it cannot foot the bill and the historic vessel is expected to change hands within months.
Heritage enthusiasts fear that while Belfast celebrates the Tall Ships and renovates SS Nomadic, the city could lose one of its finest historic ships once Caroline is decommissioned, as she could be moved to a maritime museum across the water.
The C-class light cruiser was launched and commissioned in 1914, making her the second-oldest ship in Royal Navy service after HMS Victory. She is the last remaining British World War I light cruiser in service and the only floating survivor to have fought at the Battle of Jutland, the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war.
Belfast councillor Lord Wallace Browne said Caroline is no longer suitable for the Royal Navy Reserves because of the amount of asbestos that would have to be removed at high cost.
And he said growing numbers of councillors and MLAs are concerned that, once decommissioned, HMS Caroline could be removed to a maritime museum in England.
“They feel it would be right to keep HMS Caroline in Belfast. There’s a danger she could be removed from Belfast to go back to Portsmouth - it’s all a matter of finance,” he said.
“We hope enough people would be interested to mount a campaign that HMS Caroline should stay. If the money was found to remove the asbestos and make her safe, I think she could form part of the Titanic Signature Project.”