16 January 2005

Warship to give up its guns to stay above water


Once the pride of Victoria's colonial navy, below, the Cerberus is facing a rescue operation in which its guns will be removed to keep it from disappearing below the waves.

The first deployment in the battle to save one of Australia's last remaining warships from sinking at Black Rock will begin next month.

A team from Heritage Victoria, engineering company GHD, KV Johnson Constructions, the Friends of the Cerberus and visiting shipwreck expert Ian MacLeod, from Western Australia's Maritime Museum, have been preparing to remove the guns from HMVS Cerberus.

Launched in Britain in 1868, the Cerberus is one of three monitor-style warships left in the world and the only one to have gun turrets.

"At the moment the Cerberus' guns are just pushing it down," Dr MacLeod said. "By removing them it will relieve some of the load temporarily."

The State Government has provided $80,000 to remove the four 16-tonne guns, but a further $5.5 million is needed to stabilise the vessel with permanent support.

The gun removal will start next month and is expected to take two to three days. They will be placed on the seabed until they can be remounted.

The secretary of Friends of the Cerberus, Peter Tully, has been active in the battle to save the warship for more than 30 years.

He said that while the group hoped to receive further state and federal funding, removing the guns was the crucial first step. After a major collapse in 1993, the Cerberus is settling into the seabed at a rate of about 16 millimetres a year and could go at any time.

"This is the last opportunity she's got," Mr Tully said.

"We are trying to ensure there's something there because unless we do something now, there won't be anything in the future."

The Cerberus arrived in Melbourne in April 1871 and served for more than 50 years. It was the last flagship of the Victorian Colonial Navy. Once Australia's most powerful warship, the Cerberus became part of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911.

"There's nothing like it in the world," Mr Tully said. "We do not have any navy maritime heritage asset left from our pre-Federation days."

The Cerberus, scuttled at Half Moon Bay in 1926 as a breakwater, is protected under the Victorian Heritage Act. It was recently nominated for the National Heritage List.

It rests a few hundred metres off the beach at Black Rock.