Once the world’s biggest ship, RMS Queen Mary was for decades the most elegant mode of travel for the rich and famous, a troop transport during World War II, and has been a beloved Long Beach tourist attraction since it docked there in 1967. Now it may sink within two years if it doesn’t undergo millions of dollars in repairs—and it seems nobody’s willing to pony up the dough.
As the Long Beach Post originally reported, a recent inspection report indicates that the 85-year-old ship needs $23 million in immediate repairs to ensure it remains above water for the immediate future, and that’s just the tip on the iceberg.
The April 28 inspection by marine engineering firm Elliott Bay Design Group found that the hull has structural issues, that an emergency generator is kaput, but worst of all that it lacks a functioning bilge system, which could “could lead to flooding throughout the ship, potential capsizing of the ship and life safety and environmental issues to the extent that flooding occurred,” according to documents.
The findings are no surprise to Ed Pribonic, who was the Queen Mary’s monthly inspector for nearly 30 years until his contract was terminated in 2019.
“The city was never able to keep up with the maintenance on that ship, regardless of who they leased it to,” he tells the Los Angeles Times.
And while the city has run through a list of lease-holders and schemes to save its ship, Pribonic is not optimistic, saying that “the amount of money and the amount of time it would take—I can’t see who’s going to step up and take on that responsibility. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars and years of work.”
Back in 2017, the City of Long Beach issued $23 million in bonds and Tideland funds to the boat’s former operator, Los Angeles real estate firm Urban Commons, which wasn’t able to complete the repairs. After the Queen Mary’s two previous lessees filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and 2009, Urban Commons signed a 66-year lease in 2016, promising to raise $250 million for a commercial development called Queen Mary Island. Then Urban Commons filed for bankruptcy in January with more than $500 million in liabilities, and filed a motion to sell its interest in the ship.
Long Beach, which owns the boat, says the company is still responsible for the lease and any repairs that need to be made. It has moved to block any sale until ongoing disputes are resolved.
Howard Wu, a principal at Urban Commons, said in a statement to the Times that the pandemic “has made preservation resources difficult for a time,” but promised that the company “will continue to do whatever we can to help recover and to preserve a vibrant future which we believe to be in the near horizon.”
As for the $23 million that was already spent, Wu said, “Those monies were directed to the highest-priority repairs at that time, jointly with the city, and each project and expense was decided openly and transparently.”
A study is currently being conducted to determine the feasibility of transferring responsibility for the ship to Long Beach’s Harbor Commission. The Queen Mary has been closed due to COVID since May 2020—and no reopening date is scheduled.
“The city’s been trying to get the Queen Mary right for 40-plus years,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia told reporters last month. “It’s been from one leaseholder to the next.”
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