HMS Caroline WWI warship to stay in Belfast

HMS Caroline WWI cruiser HMS Caroline is to stay at Alexandra Dock in Belfast

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World War I warship HMS Caroline is to stay in Belfast and will be restored "to her former glory", Stormont's tourism minister has said.

There was controversy earlier this year over plans to move it to Portsmouth.

However, minister Arlene Foster has said the ship is to stay, adding "an important part of Northern Ireland's maritime history was secured".

She said the the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) had pledged £1m to help to restore the warship.

The announcement was made at the Imperial War Museums as part of a programme to mark the centenary of World War I.

Start Quote

This is one of the most historic fighting ships in the world, one which played a role in a battle which was decisive in the outcome of the First World War”

End Quote Mark Francois Minister for Defence Personnel

HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship of the Battle of Jutland, has been berthed at Alexandra Dock in Belfast since 1923.

It is hoped that the restoration work will be completed by 2016, so the ship can be opened to the public in time for the centenary anniversary of the battle.

'National significance'

In June, the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) said it was planning to lift the vessel and move it to Portsmouth where it would be restored.

Days later, a campaign aimed at keeping the ship in Northern Ireland was officially launched.

Since then, Stormont's Department of Trade and Enterprise (DETI), headed by Mrs Foster, has been in talks with NMRN.

Speaking on Thursday, the DETI minister hailed the outcome of those talks as "great news" and said she was "very pleased that our collective efforts have played an important part in ensuring HMS Caroline's future is in Belfast".

Mrs Foster said the ship now had the potential to become a "must-see attraction".

"HMS Caroline is part of the fabric of Belfast and she is also an integral part of our maritime history," she said.

"The ship is of outstanding national significance and HMS Caroline has huge potential as a visitor experience as she is listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels."

In a joint statement issued through the Ministry of Defence (MOD) the NMRN said the warship's "natural home is Belfast".

'Critical'

NMRN's director general, Professor Dominic Tweddle, said: "While Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is the home of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has the facilities for restoring vessels of such immense historic significance, we are very pleased that Belfast, to which the ship moved to from Portsmouth in 1924, will now provide a mooring in perpetuity for the much loved Caroline.

"We are grateful to the MoD for gifting the ship to us and to the Northern Ireland Department for Trade Enterprise and Investment for the spirit of partnership, the enthusiasm it has shown and the commitment it has made to the vessel's restoration and eventual presentation to the public."

The UK Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Francois, said: "We are very pleased and relieved that the HMS Caroline position has been secured for future generations.

"This is one of the most historic fighting ships in the world, one which played a role in a battle which was decisive in the outcome of the First World War.

"It was critical that the ship was preserved and made accessible to the public."

Mrs Foster's department has set aside up to £100,000 this year for "remedial work" on HMS Caroline and is also in talks with the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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