Queen Mary could capsize without urgent repairs, report says


In the 85 years since her maiden voyage, RMS Queen Mary has survived rogue waves, transatlantic crossings and even a world war.

Over the past five decades, it has enjoyed a second life moored at Long Beach, riding waves of popularity and tough times as a tourist attraction.

But the historic ship now faces its most difficult voyage to date.

After years of neglect by a series of operators, the Queen Mary is so squeaky and leaky that it needs $ 23 million in immediate repairs, according to a wealth of court documents and inspection reports released last month . There is growing concern that if something is not done quickly, the ship could fall into critical disrepair and risk sinking.

The Queen Mary has long struggled as a tourist attraction, in part because of the costs involved in maintaining such a large ship. His struggles led to a variety of unsuccessful proposals that would have sent him back to Canada, New Zealand and even England.

In 1992, the city fought a move to Hong Kong. In 1997, a developer offered to take her to Japan for a few years to raise money for repairs. The city also rejected this idea. At one point, Disney viewed the Queen Mary as the center of an oceanfront theme park, but that plan also failed.

“The city has been trying to make the Queen Mary the right way for over 40 years,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at a press conference last month. “It went from one tenant to another. … It didn’t succeed to the point where there was the right partner and the right preservation plan in place.

The Queen Mary’s current state of disrepair is considerable: the structural steel is corroded, the bilge system ages, the hull is compromised and leaks and safety risks abound, according to an April 28 inspection by the marine engineering company Elliott Bay Design Group, as first shown in the Long Beach Post.

Moored in Long Beach since 1967, the ship has been a long-standing tourist attraction, hotel and history-loving destination that enjoys strong support from city leaders including Garcia, who recently said it was important to preserve the presence of the ship in the port city.

But no one seems willing or able to pay for it. The city of Long Beach owns the Queen Mary, but officials said it was not their responsibility to make repairs to the ship, which has been leased to operators for decades. The current operator is locked in bankruptcy proceedings.

Meanwhile, the ship could be inundated or even capsize over the next two years, according to recent reports.

“Urgent category work items … should be addressed immediately for flood safety over the next two years,” court documents said, noting that the current state of various systems “could lead to flooding throughout the country. vessel, a potential capsizing of the vessel and the safety of persons and environmental issues.

In the press briefing, Garcia said the ship is “an important part not only of the history of Long Beach, but of the history of the country and its relationship with the UK”.

Many companies with ambitious plans attempted to keep the Queen Mary afloat. Over the years, operators have hosted music, food and holiday festivals, including New Years and Halloween celebrations and themed Friday the 13th. haunted room offers who take advantage of the historic first-class interiors of the floating hotel.

Queen’s Seaport Development Inc. operated the vessel from 1993 to 2005 before seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Save the Queen LLC experienced similar financial difficulties in 2009.

When Los Angeles-based real estate investment company Urban Commons arrived in 2016, it came with a promise and a plan. The company signed a 66-year lease and, over three years, formed Eagle Hospitality Trust with the goal of raising funds for a $ 250 million business development around the ship called Queen Mary Island.

But in January, the trust and its affiliates filed for Chapter 11 protection with more than $ 500 million in liabilities, along with a motion to sell their assets, including their leasehold interest in the Queen Mary.

City officials said Urban Commons was still responsible for the failed lease obligations and decided to block the sale of the lease to a new bidder until the issues could be resolved.

The city’s formal objection was filed on May 14, and court documents highlighted other pressing safety concerns on the ship, including the lifeboats and lifeboat support systems showing signs significant decay and deterioration and should be removed and replaced.

The April inspection also found that critical items described in a 2015 investigation were “largely not started yet.”

Howard Wu, director of Urban Commons, said in a statement that revenues have all but dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic, “which made preservation resources difficult for some time.”

“However, we will continue to do all we can to help reclaim and preserve a vibrant future that we believe is in the near horizon,” Wu said.

Some of those who know the Queen Mary best weren’t surprised at the mind-boggling amount needed to preserve the ship and said the city was partly responsible for its own inaction.

“The city has never been able to cope with the maintenance of this vessel, no matter who it leased it to,” said Ed Pribonic, who spent nearly three decades as a monthly inspector. of the Queen Mary. He listed asbestos and electrical wiring issues among his top concerns regarding the safety and stability of the ship.

Pribonic said the city often tries to downplay its critical reports, which chronicled the ship’s degradation for years. His contract was terminated in 2019.

While he had a fondness for the Queen Mary and would like to see it stabilize, Pribonic worried that “the amount of money and the time it would take – I don’t see who is going to step in and take that responsibility.” We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars and years of work.

Beyond immediate crucial repairs, the city has also raised questions about Urban Commons’ use of COVID-19 relief loans, as well as its use of $ 23 million in bond products and tidelands issued in 2017 to deal with some of the critical repairs to the ship. , many of which have not been completed, according to court documents.

That number is in addition to the urgent $ 23 million items described in the April inspection.

Wu said the company worked with the city to create a budget and the repairs “were decided and planned together.”

“The Queen will always have a list of repairs that must be prioritized together between the tenant and the city – as was done with the advancement of the $ 23 million for urgent repairs three years ago,” he said. he declares. “These funds were allocated to the highest priority repairs at that time, jointly with the city, and every project and every expense was decided in an open and transparent manner.”

In a statement last month, Long Beach officials reaffirmed the city’s objection to the sale of the lease and argued that the city should not be required to spend its own funds to repair the ship as its problems were well documented.

The city “will continue to work with the bankruptcy court to achieve an outcome that will best position the ship for long-term success,” Long Beach Director of Economic Development John Keisler said in a May 20 memo. .

At the recent press conference, Garcia said the Queen Mary “absolutely must be preserved”.

Once the largest ship the world has ever seen, the Queen Mary transported royalty, celebrities and politicians to her heyday in the 1930s. After the start of World War II, she was painted in gray and converted to an armored personnel carrier that carried Allied soldiers, earning it the nickname “Gray Ghost” for its speed and camouflaged color.

It was finally revamped to its former luxurious glory before its last trip to Long Beach, and it has been attracting visitors ever since.

Wu noted that a pre-pandemic economic impact report found that $ 115.2 million in spending by visitors, tourists and event providers associated with the Queen Mary in Los Angeles County generated 205. , $ 3 million in economic output and $ 6.1 million in tax revenue in 2019 and supported more than 2,200 jobs, among others.

“While the profit margins of the Queen Mary operation have always been slim and during periods of major repair and renovation the operating income was negative … our commitment to its legacy and preservation has never wavered.” , did he declare.

Despite a myriad of problems, some have said it is worth preserving the legendary ship, which is one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Historic Hotels of America”.

“The Queen Mary deserves to be saved for many reasons, including her historical significance as one of the fastest and grandest ships of her time, her important role in transporting troops during World War II , its unique meaning [and] one of the finest examples of Art Deco decor, ”said Lawrence Horwitz, executive vice president of Historic Hotels of America.

Horwitz also noted that the ship plays a valuable role in tourism and that millions of visitors have come to see the Queen Mary during her decades in Long Beach.

The city’s objection to the lease sale is expected to go to a judge this month, and an auction will likely be delayed until late summer, officials said.

Long Beach is also considering transferring control of the Queen Mary to its harbor commission, which oversees the port of Long Beach, and is conducting a study to determine the feasibility of this plan.

The Queen Mary has been closed since May 7, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It does not have a set reopening date as of yet, city officials said.

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