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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 17:33 GMT
Warship scuttled for divers
HMS Scylla
HMS Scylla lies idle at Portsmouth
The government has given permission for a project to sink an old warship off the Cornish coast to create an artificial reef.

A licence has been issued by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) granting the Artificial Reef Consortium (Arc) permission to sink a redundant Royal Navy vessel.

The plan is to place the frigate, the former HMS Scylla, on the seabed in Whitsand Bay, between Looe and Plymouth, early in 2003 to create a diving platform.

Once on the sea bed, Arc said the vessel will attract divers from all over Europe.

Whitsand Bay
Whitsand Bay could benefit from the project

The consortium also said the ship, which is currently laid up at Portsmouth, would create new habitat for marine life.

The licensing process for the project, the first of its kind in Europe, has taken more than a year to complete.

However, some critics says such projects could make the sea a dumping ground.

But Arc said that a condition of the licence is that an officially recognised environmental monitoring programme has to be instigated to show the marine environment is not harmed during and after placement.

Project leader John Busby said: "We're divers, we don't want to pollute the environment.

"Part of the licensing has meant we have been in contact with many professional people to ensure we comply with all of the environmental legislation."

'Snag potential'

HMS Scylla is still available for release but has not yet been put up for tender.

Arc plans to buy the 113-metre long ship and spend a year having her professionally cleaned and prepared so she can be used by all types of divers.

This means that all items with so-called "snag potential" will be removed.

Hatches will be enlarged and special facilities will be introduced to allow disabled, technical, recreational and learner divers to also make use of the wreck.

She will then be sunk close to the disintegrating wreck of the World War II liberty boat, James Eagan Lane, which is just off the bay.

Arc has still to obtain permission from the landowner, the Crown Estates, to place the ship on the sea bed, which means addressing issues of liability and also modifying current laws to allow the ship to be scuttled.

John Busby said: "We still have to get some details sorted out with the Crown Estates but this is the green light we needed.

"Winning the licence means the government now recognises us as an agency capable of directing this complex project."

Arc says the project when completed will hugely benefit local tourism and the dive business.

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