Tall Ships: Thousands to hit the decks for Belfast festival to remember
It's our time to shine. Belfast is shipshape as today marks the beginning of the spectacular Tall Ships four-day maritime festival.
Between now and Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people, including many international visitors, will be along the harbour, from Queen's Quay to Pollock Dock, to marvel at the sailing vessels and all the nautical-themed festivities, food and family fun.
It is hoped the event and the surrounding publicity will be worth millions of pounds to the local economy.
A Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, HMS Northumberland, is berthing at Pollock Dock today until Sunday when she sails to lead the Parade of Tall Ships out of port.
The Tall Ships Races 2015 starts on Monday morning in the waters off Portrush. It includes 50 vessels visiting six ports in five countries.
Commander Trish Kohn said: "It is an immensely exciting time for HMS Northumberland to be part of an event on the scale of Tall Ships Belfast, and to help mark the importance of Belfast's maritime heritage.
"I know I speak on behalf of the Ship's Company when I say we are very much looking forward to our visit and the programme of events across the weekend.
"It is especially exciting to see Sail Training Ships from the navies of six other countries represented at the Festival."
Belfast City Council, Belfast Harbour, Tourism Northern Ireland and other organisers are confident of building on the success of the Tall Ships events Northern Ireland hosted in 1991 and 2009.
The new Tourism NI chief executive, John McGrillen, said: "The return of the Tall Ships to our shores is another very real endorsement of Belfast and Northern Ireland's ability to host world class events and strengthens our position as a must see destination," he said.
Mr McGrillen spoke of the economic boost provided by staging such a festival.
"With over 500,000 visitors expected to enjoy over four days of fun-filled activity which should generate some 40,000 bednights and an economic impact of almost £5 million, it will not only help increase the international profile of the city but also support economic and tourism growth, continue with job creation and create awareness of the city's compelling maritime and cultural heritage," he said.
"Tourism NI is pleased to provide £400,000 of financial support for this event."
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell joined in the welcome.
"An event of this calibre showcases our capacity for hosting major events and promotes Belfast as a key tourist destination, encouraging visitors from inside and outside Northern Ireland to boost the local economy," he said.
Belfast Harbour chief executive Roy Adair spoke of the Tall Ships providing an "incredible spectacle".
He said: "Belfast has a wonderful maritime heritage and the upcoming festival will be an opportunity to showcase it to visitors from far and near."
"We've been preparing for the Tall Ships for several years and a huge amount of work has taken place behind the scenes to get things ready."
Belfast teenager Daniel Hamilton won a Belfast Harbour competition to create a new 100 sq m mural for this year's Tall Ships festival.
The mural, painted by Daniel Devenney, is located at Barrow Square near Sailortown.
The RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea, will have a fully operational lifeboat station in Belfast City over the festival.
The crew will operate from a temporary lifeboat station located in Belfast Harbour Marina and will respond to any emergency on Belfast Lough using an Atlantic 85 relief lifeboat.
Darren Byers, RNLI Divisional Operations Manager, said: "For the duration of the weekend and specifically to accommodate the large numbers expected to descend on Belfast to watch the Tall Ships spectacle, the RNLI will be fully operational at the heart of where all the activities will be taking place.
"Belfast RNLI will operate for four days only, supported by its nearest lifeboat stations at Bangor and Larne.
"This means should there be an emergency during the event we can reduce the time it takes to get on scene while maintaining a business as usual operation at our flank lifeboat stations."