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New York jail ship heads to Britain

March 13, 1997

PORTLAND, England (AP) _ A ship that housed inmates in New York City after serving as a floating barracks during the Falklands War is returning to England to hold prisoners.

The Resolution, a five-story barge bought by Britain’s Prison Service to ease overcrowding, is expected to arrive from New York on Thursday. It will be renamed HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Weare and will hold up to 500 prisoners in the harbor for three years.

The Prisons Service refused Wednesday to say how much it paid for the ship, which has two swimming pools, a gym, four squash courts and a library, but news reports put the price at $6.4 million.

Before its conversion into a prison ship, the vessel was used as a barracks during Britain’s 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, said New York Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Thomas Antenen.

The jailboat, 325 feet long and 93 feet wide, resembles a series of prefabricated trailers stacked side by side and on top of each other.

The ship was acquired by the British firm Bibby Line Ltd. in 1987 and leased to New York along with its sister ship, the Bibby Venture, Antenen said. City authorities later bought the Resolution, which in 1994 was sold to a private shipping firm.

But plans for the ship has drawn local protest with critics complaining that the return of a prison ship _ last used regularly in Victorian times _ conjures up memories of British convicts being transported to Australia.

The barge will remain empty until the government rules on objections by the Weymouth and Portland municipalities.

``We have so many projects going on to promote tourism,″ said Jim Churchouse, chairman of the local planning committee. ``Having a prison ship moored in the harbor does not exactly fit in with those ideas.″

The heads of several large jails warned this week that overcrowding was so bad they would refuse new inmates. Britain’s prison population is 59,150 and growing, but it only has 57,000 jail cells.

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