'Foreign buyer' fear for historic sailing ship
An historic ship which was restored in North Devon and has been named a national treasure could be sold abroad if bids to keep her in the country are not successful.
The Kathleen and May, which is owned by Bideford businessman Steve Clarke, is at risk of being sold abroad in the next few months if bids to keep her in the country are not accepted by the Arts Council.
Mr Clarke, who bought the ship in 1998, put her up for sale five years ago but a lack of offers from the UK and a bid from Asia has meant he has had to look at an export licence so offers from abroad can be seriously considered.
He said: "My health is deteriorating and it is a huge undertaking to keep her going, so this is an option I have had to look at."
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Cindy Grice and her husband Jeff live on the boat which has been berthed in Liverpool since she left Bideford in 2011. They are the independent agents for Mr Clarke. Cindy said a consortium is being put together in Liverpool to set up a trust which will then raise enough money to buy the ship, which has been valued at £2 million.
She said: "We want to make sure she stays in the country.
"Hopefully Liverpool will come up with a plan. A constitution has been written to set the trust up.
"The trust will then manage her and she will become a public asset once she is bought rather than privately owned like she has been."
The Grices are originally from Bideford and praise the work the people in the area did to restore the ship.
Cindy added: "The people of Bideford did so much. Everyone thinks she should come back but they forget they ensured her future for probably another 100 years. If the trust can raise £2 million to buy her and then raise another million to start her up in public ownership then her future will be really secure."
Cindy said they are hopeful the trust can be fully set up and the money can be raised by June when the export licence could be issued.
But Martyn Heighton, the director of National Historic Ships UK, said he believes the export licence could be issued sooner if the bids submitted in recent weeks are deemed not to be strong enough by the Arts Council.
He said: "I am disappointed a trust has not been set up before.
"The ship is incredibly important, it is one of the largest historic sailing ships left.
"If she does go to a hot country I don't think she will last long, but Steve said he doesn't want her to go abroad."