Endangered Latin American timber that was impounded by UK border authorities is being used to re-deck one of the First World War’s last surviving ships.
The UK Border Agency has donated the 19-tonne shipment of Spanish cedar, worth an estimated £100,000, to the ongoing efforts to transform the HMS Caroline from a rusting hulk to a floating museum.
It is understood the wood was confiscated upon entry to the UK due to lack of documentation to prove it was forested from a sustainable source.
HMS Caroline, a light cruiser, is the last survivor of WWI’s most famous naval engagement – the Battle of Jutland.
A £15 million-plus lottery-backed restoration project aims to turn it into a major visitor attraction in time for next year’s centenary commemorations of the battle.
The vessel, which is docked in Belfast in the same shipyards where the Titanic was built, was in danger of rusting away or even being scrapped before moves to save it started to build up steam two years ago.
Jonathan Porter, HMS Caroline project manager, said the gift was very welcome.
“Historic projects such as the HMS Caroline attract all sorts of attention and occasional acts of philanthropy but it’s not every day we take a delivery of quality timber like this,” he said.
Captain John Rees from the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which owns the ship, said it ranked second only to HMS Victory in terms of historic significance.
“We cannot overestimate the importance of Caroline in the maritime history of Europe and we are hugely proud that the ship will be opening to the public in Belfast on the date which marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 2016,” he said.
The ship, built on Merseyside in 1914, came dangerously close to sinking during the big freeze that hit Northern Ireland in 2010 when pipes and radiators burst.
Weighing 3,750 tons and measuring 446ft (136m), HMS Caroline was part of the screening force which sailed out ahead of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet during the Battle of Jutland, off the coast of Denmark, to establish the position of the German battleships.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties in what was the most significant clash between battleships during the First World War. Britain and Germany both claimed victory.
Six years after the war ended, HMS Caroline was moved from Portsmouth to Belfast to become a training vessel for local Royal Navy Reserves. Most of the rest of the fleet was decommissioned and broken up.
HMS Caroline performed its function as a drill ship up until 2011, apart from during the Second World War when it was used as an operations headquarters for the efforts to protect the Atlantic convoys from German U-boats.