30 April 2012

Cerberus protection group gets sinking feeling

By Kylie Northover April 30, 2012

Friends of the Cerberus president John Rogers, holding a model of the ship, says the government has flip-flopped on its commitment.
Picture: John Woudstra


HOPES of raising the wreck of colonial naval ship HMVS Cerberus have been scuttled with the government deeming a plan to build a stabilising platform too dangerous.

The historic wreck, once Australia's most powerful ship, was sunk as a breakwater at Half Moon Bay off Black Rock in 1926. Protected under the Victorian Heritage Act, the Cerberus has been sinking since its hull collapsed in 1993. In 2008, then heritage minister Peter Garrett pledged $500,000 to the National Trust to advance a project to stabilise the wreck.

Friends of the Cerberus, a volunteer group working to preserve the wreck, had then tried to raise $6.5 million, but were unsuccessful.

Instead, plans were made to spend the $500,000 on bracing the ship's gun turrets, which, says group president John Rogers, are in imminent danger of collapsing.

"The plan was to raise it up and put it on a platform before it collapses," Mr Rogers said. Failing to stabilise it, he said, would be "destruction by neglect".

Engineering company BMT Design and Technology had designed a bracing system and was ready to begin the work.

But last week the Victorian branch of the National Trust received a letter from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, advising that the department had changed its mind on spending the money on structural support work, saying "the proposals would be excessively invasive in terms of heritage values and potentially dangerous for the people".

The department proposes using the funds to "continue and enhance the existing corrosion management processes and to establish a high-quality interpretative device on the shore adjacent to the vessel". The interpretation could include mounting guns which were removed in 2005, (at present on the sea bed), in nearby parkland.

Mr Rogers said the government had flip-flopped. "The design work has been done, the bracing system selected. And now, out of the blue, the feds and Heritage Victoria want to forget that and do some pretty panels on the shore."

The department, however, said that, as the conditions of the original agreement - to raise $6.5 million - weren't met, the full scope of the work could not be undertaken.

The department ''considered the options presented in the BMT report and formed the view that all options were potentially dangerous for the people engaged to carry out the work". The proposed external supporting structure, it said, would ''obstruct the wreck and be excessively invasive in terms of the heritage values of the vessel".

National Trust Victoria chief executive Martin Purslow agreed with the department's assessment. "It is a shipwreck, deliberately sunk in the bay, and corrosion and deterioration are absolutely inevitable over time," he said. ''Best heritage practice is about slowing that decline down as far as possible."