Government won't buy handover warship HMS Chatham

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 4:06am

A former British Navy warship that played a key role in the city's handover in 1997 is up for sale this month, giving the government a rare chance to buy a piece of Hong Kong's maritime history.

But officials say HMS Chatham, which escorted the Royal Yacht Britannia during the handover to Chinese sovereignty and was in control of military operations in the months leading up to it, is of "low historical significance" and there are no plans to buy it.

Former Royal Navy lieutenant and Hong Kong resident Daniel Keeping, 39, who served on a similar vessel and saw the HMS Chatham in action during the handover, disagrees.

He believes the frigate would be a popular tourist attraction and could be berthed near the Museum of Coastal Defence in Shau Kei Wan or the Maritime Museum, which is slated to open this month at Central pier 8.

"I think it would draw in a lot of tourists but it would also be popular with locals," hesaid.

A Leisure and Cultural Services Department spokeswoman said: "Compared with other HMS naval ships in the defence history of Hong Kong, this ship has not played a particularly important role. Given the comparatively low historical relationship of the ship to Hong Kong, we do not have plans to acquire it at this stage."

Keeping said he first came up with the idea of turning the type 22 frigate into a tourist attraction when he saw it had been put on the market by the Disposal Services Authority, an arm of Britain's Ministry of Defence.

He fears it could be sold for scrap metal or sunk and converted into an artificial reef - two less glamorous options for a ship which has also fought Somali piracy and played key roles in international drug busts at sea.

"It's a rare opportunity to buy a piece of important history," Keeping, now a pilot with a major airline, said. "There's a historical narrative to it, having carried out a political transition smoothly and successfully. And as time goes by, it will become more valuable because its historical significance will grow."

He said the vessel could have a handover-themed museum and be used for corporate events if a cafe or restaurant was built on board. He estimated it would cost about HK$2.5 million to buy.

Other big cities have converted vessels into popular floating museums, such as the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York and the HMS Belfast battleship museum in London; even Shenzhen has the Soviet Minsk aircraft carrier museum.

Built in 1989, HMS Chatham was dumped by the Royal Navy in October due to cuts in defence spending.

There have also been suggestions that the British government could donate the ship to Hong Kong as a goodwill gesture.