I am pleased to inform the House that I am today laying a departmental minute, which proposes the transfer of HMS Caroline and its fixtures and fittings to the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN).
HMS Caroline is considered to be the second most important ship in the UK National Maritime collection after HMS Victory; she is the only surviving veteran afloat of the Battle of Jutland (1916). The ship is a significant example of early 20th century engineering and shipbuilding, constructed of riveted steel plate with three-inch belt armour reducing to one inch at the keel. Laid down on 28 January 1914 at Camel Lairds yard in Birkenhead, she was commissioned into active service on 17 December of that year making her the fastest built major warship to date. She was propelled by two Parson’s steam turbine engines which remain onboard as the world’s only “in situ” example of the engines which revolutionized maritime propulsion. HMS Caroline has been moored in Belfast since January 1924, just over two years after the state of Northern Ireland was established and she has built a considerable social history as a witness to the province’s story. As a depot ship and Royal Naval reserve training ship she has benefited from continual occupation and some 85% of the vessel is in its original form.
The ship, currently berthed in Belfast, is in an increasingly fragile state and was decommissioned on 31 March 2011.
The contents of the ship known as the “Caroline Collection” were the subject of a separate gift (valued at less than £250,000) made in July 2011. The National Museum has already assumed responsibility for ongoing running costs of the ship. Following the gift, the NMRN intend to apply for Heritage Lottery funding in order to restore the ship as a heritage attraction in Belfast.
The proposed transfer would enable the NMRN to access external funding sources in order to restore and preserve this historically significant ship as a heritage attraction in its current location in Belfast following an agreement between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
The detailed arrangements proposed envisage that the NMRN would assume responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the ship. I expect the new arrangements to be in place by 1 April 2013.