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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Belfast survivor set for homecoming
By Julian O'Neill
BBC Newsline reporter

Amid the shipwrecks scattered about Le Havre docks in France is a survival story.

The SS Nomadic, a rusting relic so nearly sent to the scrapyard, is ready to come home.

Prow of the SS Nomadic
The Nomadic is to return to Belfast

Weeds grow on its deck, and year after year of recent neglect have taken a heavy toll.

Step onboard and you see the enormity of the renovation task.

Look hard enough, however, and you do glimpse the potential. The question is will the millions needed be raised to do the job?

The British Government, who bought the SS Nomadic at auction for 170,000 in January, has established a trust to raise up to 7m to fully restore the vessel and in the process provide a major boost to tourism in Belfast.

But if the money is not raised within 18 months, it has threatened to sell the boat for scrap.

That the SS Nomadic is still afloat after almost a century is in itself remarkable.

It was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast for the famous White Star Line and was used to take first and second class passengers out to Titanic at Cherbourg in 1912.

The Titanic entered legend when it sank with the loss of more than 1,500 people on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, but the Nomadic's story continued.

It did service as a troop carrier in both world wars and saw out the end of the century as a floating restaurant beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris before being sent for storage in Le Havre.

The Nomadic took passengers out to the Titanic
The Nomadic no longer has an upper deck or funnel

The French Titanic Society is glad the SS Nomadic has a future to look forward to in Belfast.

But Thierry Dufournaud said: "People in Belfast need to realise what a big job the renovation will be."

One of the biggest tasks is replacing the boat's upper passenger deck and funnel, removed when it left Paris.

Only some of structure is stored on board, scattered here and there below deck.

The SS Nomadic does retain some of its original features like internal doors and decorative ironwork around portholes.

The amount of dark wood is also striking, not just on wall panels but as beams on ceilings.

Other artefacts, such as a lifeboat, are in storage but huge sections - like the restaurant area - have been modernised without sympathy.

Such is the vessel's condition that a specialist company has been hired to carry it home on the back of a barge, a journey that begins on Tuesday.

Jonathan Bawden of Anchor Marine Transportation Limited said: "We have done this kind of work before but it is great to be involved in Nomadic which is part of Belfast's history."

The homecoming will take a week. The refurbishment will last years.

BBC Newsline will have a specially extended programme on Monday 17 July for live coverage of the ship's return to Belfast docks.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch the ship being prepared to leave France



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