Abandon Ship! HMS Bronington Sinks In Liverpool Dock
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Abandon Ship! HMS Bronington Sinks In Liverpool Dock

The minesweeper once skippered by Prince Charles has sunk at her mooring. HMS Bronington was one of 119 now rare Ton-class ships built in...

Abandon Ship! HMS Bronington Sinks In Liverpool Dock
The minesweeper once skippered by Prince Charles has sunk at her mooring.
 
HMS Bronington was one of 119 now rare Ton-class ships built in the 1950s for the Royal Navy, but also used by other countries such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. 
 
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The Prince of Wales captained her for 10 months in 1976, during his time in the Royal Navy, and was "quite a popular skipper", according to Wallasey ship blogger Phil Owen, who added that "I have yet to see any one have a bad word about him, everyone got on with him."
 
The Prince ended his service aboard 'Bronnie' by being wheeled off it in a wheelchair "because his command had aged him" and, in an unusual naval tradition, with a toilet seat hanging around his neck.
 
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Launched in 1953, the 440-ton Bronington was one of the last of the "wooden walls" (wooden-hulled naval vessels), and is one of the last Ton-class ships left in the world.
 
After being decommissioned, she was bought by the Bronington Trust in 1989, a registered charity whose patron was Prince Charles, with the Royal later visiting his old command.
 
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Bronington starts to sink
 
She was berthed in Manchester for some time before becoming part of the collection of the Warship Preservation Trust in 2002 and being moved to Birkenhead, in Merseyside. 
 
The Warship Preservation Trust went into liquidation in 2008, however, and for the past two years the mahogany-hulled minesweeper has been docked in Gillbrook Basin, West Float, Birkenhead.
 
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In recent years, the ship has become increasingly neglected, even having a tree growing out of her, and last month she sunk at her stern, leaving her resting on the bottom of the dock.
 
And according to the Ton Class Association, a group of historians who focus on the ships, Bronington's now set to be scrapped by Peel Ports, who are responsible for her. Peel Ports are quoted as saying in the Liverpool Echo
"Peel Ports assumed responsibility in 2006 when the previous owner went into administration and since then have worked to secure the vessel’s future by seeking to transfer ownership to credible interested parties without success."
"During that time, we regularly pumped water out of the vessel until she became unsafe to access and have since continued to maintain her moorings."
 
Mr Owen, who took these photographs, told Forces TV that Bronington was pumped out annually until about four years ago, which had prevented any serious flooding below decks.
 
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Bronington's ageing equipment
 
A survey last year, conducted by the team leading efforts to save her, found that her hull was in pretty good shape.
 
But her wooden decks haven't been re-corked in decades, allowing rainwater to seep through into the ship until enough had accumulated below to sink her, he added.
 
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Mr Owen noted that Prince Charles hasn't been directly approached about the current condition of his former ship or the efforts to save her, but suggested such a move could help save Bronington. He's quoted as saying:
"If he [Prince Charles] was to turn around and say I will save my ship then everyone would come out of the woodwork."
"She could be used for so much more.
 
"The ship is quite unique. Restoring her would be an experience for apprentices and navy personnel.
"She could be the centre of something bigger."
The Ton-class was designed to draw on lessons learnt in the Korean War, and intended to meet the threat of seabed mines laid in shallow coastal waters, rivers, ports and harbours, which existing ocean-going minesweepers were not suited for.
 
With a top speed of 16 knots (18.5mph), they were staffed by a crew of 33, and carried a 40mm Bofors gun and a 20mm Oerlikon cannon, which was later replaced by the Browning machine gun, as well as sweeping equipment for moored and magnetic mines.
 
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Each ship in the class carried the name of a British town or village ending in "-ton", hence the name of the class.
 
It had originally been planned to name the ships after insects, with names like Red Ant and Green Cockchafer, but this plan was abandoned.
 
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They served in the Royal Navy until the introduction of the River-class minesweeper in 1984, which saw them gradually taken out of service until the last was decommissioned in the 1990s, although some served in foreign navies until the 2000s.
 
All photographs courtesy of Phil Owen.