Once-mighty warship lays down its arms
By Nassim Khadem March 4, 2005
One of four 18-tonne guns is lifted from the Cerberus in a first step towards saving the historic warship.
Photo: Angela Wylie
The wreck of the Cerberus is a step closer to being saved after experts yesterday removed the four guns weighing down what was once Australia's most powerful warship.
It took months of preparation, a floating barge, a 30-tonne crane and calm Melbourne weather to begin the complex job of removing the guns, which weigh 16 tonnes each.
Six contractors from KV Johnson Constructions took 15 minutes to lift the first gun from its turret and place it on the seabed a few hundred metres off Black Rock. By the end of the day, all four guns were resting underwater, where they will remain until a way of preserving them is found.
Friends of the Cerberus secretary Peter Tully, who has been fighting for more than 30 years to save the warship, said watching the guns being removed felt "wonderful".
"I felt ecstatic," Mr Tully said. "For the first time ever something has happened to protect her and I hope that this will be the catalyst for future works."
The Cerberus, which is protected under the Victorian Heritage Act, was scuttled as a breakwater at Half Moon Bay in 1926.
Launched in Britain in 1868, it is one of three monitor-style warships left in the world and the only one with gun turrets. It arrived in Melbourne in April 1871, was the last flagship of the Victorian Colonial Navy and joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1911.
Heritage Victoria's maritime heritage manager, Peter Harvey, said it was possible the Cerberus could still sink into the sand.
The warship is settling into the seabed at a rate of about 16 millimetres a year.
"It's very seriously eroded. But we have reduced the risk of it sinking by taking that extra weight off," he said.
The State Government provided $80,000 to remove the guns, but another $5.5 million is needed for a permanent support structure.
Mr Tully said state and federal funding depended on a National Heritage register decision, not expected until mid-year.