A CAMPAIGN to save historic sailing ship Falls of Clyde is surging ahead and the vessel could be back in Inverclyde by the summer.

Save Falls of Clyde International is battling to rescue the iconic vessel, which was built in Port Glasgow in 1878.

The last surviving four-masted iron hull sailing ship in the world is currently afloat in Honolulu harbour in Hawaii, but under threat of being scrapped.

David O’Neill, chair of the campaign group, has written to the council’s environment, regeneration and resources director Scott Allan, seeking support to bring the boat home to Inverclyde.

He said: “I have been in discussions with members of the council outlining our plan to repatriate the ship, initially to Troon’s Ailsa Shipyard for hull repairs, then to Greenock Victoria Harbour to be rebuilt at the quayside.

“Our plan is to have this ship rebuilt to sea-going condition if possible.

“She would become a campus afloat, she will carry Fairtrade cargo working through a hub in Greenock with Dutch company Fairtransport Eu, she would also offer personal sail experiences to the general public, all of which will sustain her during her next 50 years.” 

Falls of Clyde was designed by William Lithgow and built by A E Russell and Company, Port Glasgow, for Wright and Breakenridge Lloyds for international trade. 

In 1899 she was purchased by the Honolulu-based Matson Navigation Company and carried passengers and cargo between Hawaii and California before being sold in 1907. 

She was then converted to a bulk oil carrier and in 1927 became a floating fuel depot stationed in Alaska.

In 1959 she was sold again and taken to Seattle for preservation but in 1963 the decision was taken to sink her to create part of a breakwater in Vancouver.

However, he was saved by enthusiasts and towed to Honolulu instead.

Designated a US National Historic Landmark in 1989, she was a museum ship until 2008 — when ownership was transferred to the Friends of Falls of Clyde.

The group has persuaded the port authority not to sink her for creation of an artificial reef, and international efforts are now under way to repatriate her. 

Mr O’Neill says the ship would be a major tourist attraction, and he believes it could bring an extra 250,000 visitors to the area.

He insists that the ship could even return to Scotland as soon as July.

He said: “We have an agreement in place with a ship lift company who have offered to bring her home in July/September.

“Following a visit to Hawaii in December we now have the co-operation of the Hawaiian authorities and their support in this repatriation effort.”

A business plan has also been submitted to the council, the Scottish Government and copies are to be passed to Jim McColl, the billionaire businessman who saved Ferguson’s shipyard from closure.