Ambitious plan to make HMS Caroline another tourist must-see
‘People lived in this ship, they fought in this ship. It’s the story of those people we are trying to bring alive’
The historic warship HMS Caroline is to be Belfast’s answer to HMS Belfast when it is transformed into a floating world-class tourist attraction.
The 98-year-old ship will be lovingly restored and opened to the public in a major four-year project likely to cost around £8m.
During a one-day visit to Belfast, the director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), Professor Dominic Tweddle, said a team was already developing ideas to tell the stories of those who sailed on Caroline.
“What we want to do is tell the story of the whole ship. People lived in this ship, they fought in this ship,” he said.
“It’s the story of those people we are trying to bring alive. The ship is great — but why? Because she encapsulates all these people through time.”
The last floating survivor of the pivotal Battle of Jutland is expected to open by 2016 to mark the centenary of the battle against the Germans — and is expected to attract thousands of tourists from around the world.
The good news follows a one-year campaign led by the Belfast Telegraph to save the ship and have it stay in the city.
The vessel — which has been in the city since 1924 — had fallen into disrepair and seemed destined for the scrapheap.
But now, restoration of the 3,750-ton First World War light cruiser paves the way for the vessel to become Northern Ireland's equivalent of HMS Belfast, the Second World War cruiser now moored on the Thames in London — and one of the capital’s most famous attractions.
It is expected the ship will be berthed close to Titanic Belfast where hundreds of thousands of maritime enthusiasts are already flocking.
Prof Tweddle said that the project, supported by the Department of Enterprise here, will be hugely positive for Northern Ireland.
“I think she will help to generate tourist footfall. There are people who will travel quite a distance to see Caroline,” he said. “There is the day trip audience, but I think she brings her own special interest groups with her. People can, we hope, walk out from Titanic Belfast and see the ship that is very different to the Titanic but a ship from the same era and has the same turbines the liner had.”
The project is also hoped to forge new links with local universities and colleges.
“We want to work with educational providers more widely in Northern Ireland to devise learning opportunities, the science, history and role in the community,” said the professor.
Prof Tweddle said there are a “number of hurdles” to overcome but was confident.
“Is it do-able? Ships can be restored and they can be great, as HMS Caroline will be,” he said.
Defence Minister Mark Francois on Monday confirmed to MPs the ship would be given to the NMRN, allowing the body to unlock lottery money for the restoration.
“The proposed transfer would enable the NMRN to access external funding in order to restore this historically significant ship as a heritage attraction in Belfast.”