The British government paid £170,000 (€250,000) today to save a rusting boat which once ferried passengers on to the Titanic.
The bid was accepted at an auction in Paris after fears that the SS Nomadic would end up in a breaker’s yard instead of being brought back to Belfast.
The ferry was the last White Star vessel to be built at the city’s famous Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was launched in 1912.
A special charitable trust will now be set up to oversee fundraising and the full restoration of the Nomadic.
Campaigners had urged the authorities to intervene and rescue the ship which is regarded as a crucial part of the Titanic legacy and Belfast’s history.
Today, David Hanson, Minister at the Department for Social Development (DSD) in Belfast, announced his department had been working behind the scenes since before Christmas to acquire the boat.
He said: “It was necessary to maintain confidentiality round this work to ensure that Government’s bidding for the Nomadic at open auction was not compromised.
“DSD paid €250,001 euro for the vessel.”
But with millions of pounds needed to carry out a full restoration, Mr Hanson warned the Nomadic would be sold in 18 months if the trust does not succeed in its fundraising efforts.
The Nomadic, which was sold for scrap 56 years after the sinking of the Titanic, was later used as a restaurant.
The 221-foot long ferry has been in dry dock in Le Havre, northwest France, since April 2002.
It failed to sell at an earlier auction held in November.