City Unable to Auction Off Queen Mary Lifeboats

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022

While the City of Long Beach, California, originally planned to auction off the 20 lifeboats from the RMS Queen Mary, lead paint and a lack of bids is leading to the disposal of the boats. The historic vessel, which currently serves as a hotel and event space in the area, is currently undergoing repairs after years of neglect.

One of the lifeboats is 30 feet long, while the rest are 36 feet long and weigh about 12,000 pounds. The city plans to keep two of the original lifeboats on the ship and one to exhibit on the ground near the ship.

Queen Mary History, Repairs

The RMS Queen Mary was built beginning in 1930 in Clydebank, Scotland, with the maiden voyage setting sail in 1936. The ship is 1,109 feet in overall length, 118 feet in breadth, over 38 feet in draft and displaces 81,237 gross tons.

Initially used as a luxury ocean liner, the Queen Mary was retrofitted to serve as a troop ship during World War II. Repainted a gray for camouflage, the ship was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost,” and hauled up to 15,000 men during the war.

After serving as a military ship, the Queen Mary was returned to its original glory for its final years at sea in the 1960s. The vessel arrived in Long Beach in September 1967 after carrying over 2 million passengers on more than 1,000 voyages across the North Atlantic.

The ship then was transformed into a hotel, which currently hosts 100,000 square feet of event space and exhibits, seven restaurants and 365 hotel rooms. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ship hotel was shut down indefinitely in 2020.

However, according to reports, the vessel has been in a state of severe disrepair for years, and the city even considered sinking the ship after it regained control of the ship for the first time in over 40 years in June 2021. The former operator, Urban Commons Queensway LLC, reportedly had severely neglected the ship and filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2021.

Because of its historical significance and the revenue it generates for the city, officials opted to save the ship. According to a 2020 economic impact report, the Queen Mary generated $93.7 million in economic output.

At the end of January this year, the City of Long Beach announced it was preparing to start critical repairs to the 93-year-old vessel, which are anticipated to be completed later this year. The estimated cost of repairs will be about $5 million.

“It is our responsibility to preserve the Queen Mary and ensure this historic landmark is properly cared for,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a press release “Now that the city has full oversight and control of the Queen, it’s important we make the critical repairs needed.”

According to the release, the lifeboat removal was one of the most critical repairs identified in engineering reports. Additional work includes emergency generator and water intrusion warning system improvements, repairs to relight one of the ship’s exhaust funnels and ensuring the safety of electrical systems and lights with repair work to surrounding circuits.

The next round of critical repairs will reportedly include improvements to the ship’s bulkheads and bilge pump systems. Additionally, minor repairs including painting, replacement of lighting and other ship maintenance are underway.

The ship will remain closed to public until critical repairs are completed, but the city reports that it continue to be available for filming and special events in hopes to generate revenue to support renovations and repairs.

Lifeboat Bidding

In February, the city put out a notice that it was looking for bidders, including museums, preservation groups or developers, who would be interested in buying the corroded lifeboats. The announcement came as the $5 million repair project began for the Queen Mary, the first step towards reopening it to the public after it closed in May 2020 due to the pandemic.

Removal of the lifeboats began earlier that month, with removal being the first priority for repairs due the lifeboats exerting stress on the boat’s side shell and creating “severe cracks” in its support system. The boats were described as being in “poor condition” with “significant corrosion,” but reportedly preserved much of their original appearance.

The lifeboats, which are constructed of steel and wood, also tested positively for the presence of lead-based paint in the black trim and interior red paint. Exbon Development Inc. was contracted for their removal on the project.

Interested buyers were required to submit a proposal outline their experience in preserving historical items, as well as sign a liability waiver because of the lead paint. Additionally, bidders needed to have the ability to transport the 12,000 pound boats themselves.

While bid proposals were originally due March 25, the bidding process ended on April 28. Long Beach officials said there were only two bidders, with one bidder withdrawing and the other failing to submit the documentation required by the city.

The organization dedicated to preserving the ship, QMI Restore the Queen, also bid on the boats, but could not find a trucking company to properly transport them due to their hazardous status, Executive Director Mary Rohrer said. The group was also reportedly not willing to sign a liability waiver to clean and dispose of the lead paint.

“Just to haul one of the lifeboats away, you have to have a hazmat certification as a trucking company,” she said, adding that they asked the city for more time to find a way to move the lifeboats. 

“The city considers the matter closed and will move forward with the safe disassembly of the remaining lifeboats, per applicable health, safety and environmental regulations, and will work to identify potential creative solutions to repurpose elements of the lifeboats,” Joy Contreras, a spokesperson for the Long Beach Public Works Department, said in a statement.

“It's the last remaining ship of our greatest generation,” Rohrer said. “That ship holds the world's record ... for transporting the most humans in history. And those lifeboats are part of that history.”

Rohrer also told reporters that the group has suggested that the city allow it to remove and sell the metal fittings and other historically significant items from the lifeboats to raise money for the preservation of the three lifeboats the city will keep.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the second bidder, Zack Armstrong, could not be reached for comment.


Tagged categories: Bidding; Coating Materials; Health & Safety; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Lead; Lead; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Ships and vessels

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