Shops replace ships as maritime history goes west

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The Independent Online
SHE survived the Second World War, hauling convoy ships that had outrun the U-boats into port, and ended her days in a museum. But now the former Empire Ash, one of Britain's last coal-fired steam tugs, and the other exhibits at the Welsh Maritime and Industrial Museum are losing their home to a shopping centre.

The doors of the museum in Cardiff's dockland were closed yesterday after its controversial sale for an estimated pounds 7.5m. The priceless collection from Wales's industrial past will now be stored or loaned to other centres. But the tug, since renamed the Sea Alarm, will not be relocated, only her engines will be kept: her rusting hull will be scrapped.

The closure of the museum - whose role was to record Wales's industrial heritage - to make way for a development of shops in Cardiff Bay, has been fiercely opposed, and the National Museum of Wales is still looking for a new home.

Rhodri Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff West and one of the strongest opponents of closure, goes further: "It is an unbelievable scandal.

"It beggars belief that we could have got into a situation where for the sake of having a row of upmarket shops, we have sacrificed the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum. It is the ultimate step in the yuppification of Cardiff Bay. It extinguishes the memory of what made Wales such a powerful force in the industrialisation of the world for one and a half centuries. It is extremely ironic that not only have railways, mines and iron works been closed in Wales, but we have now closed the museum that commemorates them."

Ceri Thomas, assistant director of public services at the National Museum and Galleries of Wales, said: "We had originally planned to build a new museum in a Wales Millennium Centre, but when that was turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund we were left looking for an alternative."

On Thursday, the National Museum of Wales will launch a consultation exercise on the future for the Principality's industry and maritime heritage.