Dorset businessman wants to sink Royal Navy frigates off Weymouth coast for diving reef
Neville Copperthwaite has dreams of sinking two Royal Naval frigates off the Dorset coast.
But sailors can rest easy as, instead of being some Bond villain, he’s part of a team that wants to boost coastal communities all around the country by encouraging their development as dive spots.
Mr Copperthwaite has faith in the simplicity of his plan; to take decommissioned ships that are awaiting sale and “rotting” in dock in Portsmouth and sink them to create artificial reefs on the edge of Weymouth Bay, attracting marine life and also divers.
They would, he says, also be good for fishermen, boost the local economy by millions, and give the Treasury back plenty in VAT alone.
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Mr Copperthwaite, a Portland-based marine consultant, said yesterday: “This is not just about another ship and it is not just about one town on the south coast. With support from a national level it is quite possible that those ex-naval warships that are rotting away in Portsmouth could help generate tens of millions of pounds for coastal communities from Portland Bill to Skegness.
Leading the not-for-profit community group Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef, he says its scheme could be a blueprint for the whole of the UK. The group has leased a square kilometre of seabed from the Crown Estate, and been granted a licence by the Marine Management Organisation to create a variety of reefs, including by sinking two warships.
There is one flaw in the plan – the Ministry of Defence does not want to give the ships away. So after producing an economic case for the project, Wreck to Reef is appealing to the public to pile on the pressure by signing an e-petition.
“We have created a new way to manage an area of sea-bed by the people for the people,” said Mr Copperthwaite.
“ We have got permissions for a lobster re-stocking reef, a quarry reef, a solace reef, as well as for the sinking of two warships. The lobster re-stocking reef is already a reality, it was laid last March and 1,000 baby lobsters donated by the National Lobster Hatchery, will be released this summer.”
He said that bids for the ships must be higher than the scrap value, adding that “the UK is sadly out of step with the rest of the world with regards to giving ships as ‘deeds of gifts’. Portugal and Thailand sank four ships in 2012, with Portugal planning to sink another two this year. When HMS Scylla was sunk off Plymouth, the Government provided £1.4 million money through the Regional Development Agency.”
He said: “Is it not time to look at the rest of the world and finally lay these ships to rest in British waters as artificial reefs?
Neville Copperthwaite, Marcus Darler and Sean Webb, main picture, directors of the Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef company, who hope to sink two frigates in Weymouth Bay as diving wrecks Picture: Fran Stothard