THE First World War cruiser HMS Caroline will be saved, the man in charge of securing the ship’s future said last night.
Professor Dominic Tweddle spoke to The News as the deadline passed for heritage bids to be submitted to the Ministry of Defence yesterday.
He said: ‘We’ll save the ship, I don’t think that’s now in doubt.’
But Prof Tweddle, who is director-general of the Portsmouth-based National Museum of the Royal Navy, remained coy on whether HMS Caroline will remain in Belfast or come to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The warship, which was decommissioned by the navy last year after 97 years in service, is the last surviving vessel from the famous Battle of Jutland in 1916.
‘Everyone is agreed on her importance to the nation and how to save her,’ Prof Tweddle said.
‘Now we’ve got to do some more work. I’m sure ministers will accept that the heritage parties can find a way forward.’
He said the final decision on where the ship will go on display now rests with defence minister Andrew Robathan.
He added: ‘All he (Robathan) wanted was for heritage bodies to come up with a solution that the MoD can support. We’ve done that and now he’s got to decide.’
Prof Tweddle’s upbeat message was in stark contrast to June when he told The News he feared the warship could be sold for scrap if the MoD deadline wasn’t met.
The breakthrough comes after talks with the Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
He said: ‘There is a heritage solution for Caroline, we believe.
‘That’s been put to the minister and I can’t believe the minister will not support it.’
The News understands Northern Ireland ministers were first approached in 2009 about finding a heritage solution for Caroline.
But it was only after Prof Tweddle’s public warnings about the MoD’s July 31 deadline that words turned into actions.
Meanwhile, there has been a behind-the-scenes campaign to bring the ship to Portsmouth in 2014 in time for events to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. It’s thought the ship could be opened to visitors at the jetty next to HMS Warrior.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Ms Foster said: ‘Officials have had a constructive meeting with the museum of the Royal Navy on the July 18 and are continuing to work with them to find a solution.’
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: ‘We’ve now received bids and will consider the future of HMS Caroline. We will make an announcement in the future.’