THE race is on to save HMS Caroline from the scrap yard and bring her to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Urgent talks are being held after the Ministry of Defence said it will commence ‘commercial disposal’ of the fragile First World War cruiser if a heritage bid is not tabled by the end of July.
Caroline, which is the last survivor of the famous Battle of Jutland in 1916, has been moored in Belfast for the last 80 years as a Royal Navy training ship.
She was decommissioned by the navy last year.
The Portsmouth-based National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has been in talks with the Northern Ireland Assembly since 2009, but ministers have still not committed to a bid to keep Caroline there.
There is a behind-the-scenes campaign to bring the warship to Portsmouth.
But Dominic Tweddle, director-general of NMRN, said time is running out to stop the MoD selling her.
He told The News: ‘It would be very unfortunate that on the eve of commemorating the start of the First World War we manage to send HMS Caroline to the breakers’ yard.’
Adding that the chances of saving the ship were ‘50:50’, he said: ‘We would be very happy if the Northern Ireland government was able to come up with a heritage solution for Caroline but as we stand we are six weeks away from the MoD starting the disposal process. We have not got much time left.’
Portsmouth City Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson is backing the campaign to bring the warship to Portsmouth.
He said: ‘I’m very keen for her to come here because it would add significantly to the range of warships we have on display here.
‘We’ll help all we can but we don’t have any money.’
It’s understood £5m is needed to restore Caroline, which was described as ‘in an increasingly fragile state’ by the MoD yesterday.
Northern Ireland’s tourism minister Arlene Foster, who wants the ship to stay in Belfast, said: ‘I’m seeking an urgent meeting with the MoD with the view to finding the best solution to HMS Caroline’s long-term future.’
WARSHIP SERVED FOR 97 YEARS
BEFORE HMS Caroline was decommissioned in March last year, she was the second oldest ship in the Royal Navy (the oldest being HMS Victory).
Built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead in 1914, she holds the record of having the fastest build time of any significant warship – nine months from her keel being laid until her launch.
The hurry was brought on by the outbreak of the First World War on July 28, 1914.
The C-class light cruiser entered service as leader of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet in December 1914 and served in the North Sea throughout the war.
She fought in the Battle of Jutland on May 31 and June 1, 1916 – the largest naval battle and only full-scale clash of battleships in the war.
Both sides claimed victory, although Britain lost more ships and many more sailors than the Germans – 6,094 British and 2,551 German men were killed in the fighting.
After the war, Caroline served in the East Indies before becoming the training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves Ulster Division in Belfast in 1924.
During the Second World War, she returned to active duty as the administration centre for convoy escort ships based at Londonderry.
After victory in 1945, Caroline reverted to being a training vessel in Belfast.
She remained in this role until 2009 when the Royal Navy Reserve unit housed on board was moved to shore accommodation due to the ship’s state of disrepair.
An MoD survey found Caroline required a costly refit to remain in service and the National Museum of the Royal Navy was tasked with finding a heritage solution for the ship.
After three years of waiting for a firm offer, the MoD says it will sell Caroline unless it receives a bid by July 31.
THERE’S no doubting that HMS Caroline would fit in perfectly alongside the other world-famous naval attractions in Portsmouth.
The First World War cruiser deserves her place among the greats of the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
As one of the earliest grey metal ships of the navy and the last survivor of the Grand Fleet, Caroline fills a gaping hole in the attractions currently available to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who flock to the dockyard every year from all over the world.
Opening her up to the public to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is an open goal for city tourism chiefs.
They can’t afford to miss this golden opportunity.