Saturday, February 11, 2006

 

Owner of historic U-boat in vital talks

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icLiverpool
By Kate Mansey
February 06, 2006





REPRESENTATIVES of the owners one of the last surviving German U-boats arrived in Wirral last night to discuss its future as a campaign mounts to keep it in Merseyside.

The fate of U534 remains uncertain along with that of dozens of priceless artifacts, after the Historic Warships exhibition at Birkenhead museum closed to the public yesterday.

The World War II submarine, owned by Danish company Ben Bla Avis, is one of the most prized pieces in the collection, the largest group of preserved 20th Century warships in Europe.

Owners, workers and trustees of the museum have vowed to continue the battle to keep the ships in Merseyside after the Trust which ran it announced it is going into liquidation.

Campaigners are expected to ask councillors if they will agree to mothball exhibits and keep them in storage until an alternative site is found, at a key meeting on Thursday.

The U534 was one of the last U-boats sunk by the Allies in 1945 and was raised from the sea bed 48 years later.

Among the other vessels being fought for by the new group, Save Our Ships, are two Falklands conflict veterans - the frigate HMS Plymouth and submarine HMS Onyx.

However, it is thought that only a wealthy benefactor will be able to rescue the project.

Sir Philip Goodhart, chairman and founder of the museum, yesterday welcomed representatives of the owners of the U534, private collectors from Denmark, to discuss the submarine's future.

He said: "It is a sad day to see Historic Warships close.

"Hundreds of people have turned out to go through our collection and I very much hope that in a new form the collection can be reopened.

"I would like to see the ships stay in Merseyside.

"It is a collection of great national importance and a historic place."

Sir Philip added: "To a considerable extent, the future of the collection depends on what comes out of the discussions this week."

The collection of 20th century ships was closed to the public at 4pm yesterday.

Around 11 members of staff have been made redundant.

Colin Butt, deputy manager of Historic Warships At Birkenhead, said many employees had worked at the museum for the 12 years since it opened. Speaking yesterday, he said: "It is absolutely devastating.

"All the staff here have worked hard for many years. Today we have been inundated with visitors pouring through the door.

"Everyone has been working flat out to make sure as many people as possible can see the ships for one last time."

The collection of warships has been in trouble over plans to move the museum to make way for the conversion of a nearby corn warehouse to be converted into luxury flats.

If the campaign is unsuccessful the collection will be forced into liquidation.


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