Is famous liner in danger of sinking?

I’ve always enjoyed ships and writing about them.

Big or small, military or civilian, American or foreign, ships have fascinated me since I was 9 or 10, when my parents took me from the Port of Los Angeles to Catalina Island aboard the SS Catalina.

When I write about ships for this newspaper, I usually seek a connection to the the state of Nevada. In my column of Dec. 11, 2009, for example, I found such a Nevada-related link. It involved the 1,019-foot British luxury liner SS Queen Mary that had been launched in 1936 and, since 1967, had been serving in Long Beach, Calif., as a floating maritime museum and shore-based tourist hotel after it was deemed to be too old and obsolescent for further passenger service between Europe and the United States.

Before writing that column eight years ago, I drove to the Queen Mary with my son, Dave, who took a photo of the famed liner which accompanied my story. My column today is supplemented by another photo of the Queen Mary taken by Dave, this time my 31-inch-long wooden model of the ship.

My 2009 column that carried the headline “Move the Queen Mary to Nevada? Really?” was connected to reports that the then-73-year-old ship, which was shabby, worn and losing millions of dollars a year in Long Beach, was being considered for purchase by a zillionaire Saudi sheikh who wanted to cut up the Queen Mary into sections, ship the sections by rail to Las Vegas, reassemble them there and turn the into a massive hotel-casino resort and shopping center complex.

That proposal, as well as one from a Nevada corporation that involved towing the Queen Mary to a shipyard in San Francisco where it would be given new engines, completely renovated and turned, once again, into a luxury passenger liner, went nowhere. Today, the Queen Mary remains at her pier in Long Beach.

The famous liner, which in its heyday carried kings, queens, movie stars, high society figures and assorted millionaires and billionaires across the Atlantic, however, faces a new and possibly grim fate: It is in danger of sinking.

Newspaper, radio and TV reports from Southern California the past two weeks reveal that the Queen Mary has become so neglected and has been in such an increasing rate of disrepair over the years that it faces structural collapse which would lead to flooding that would result in the ship’s sinking to the ocean floor. Naval architects and nautical engineers who compiled a recent marine survey of the ship’s condition have warned that the entire vessel “is probably approaching the point of no return,” according to an extensive article published in the Long Beach Press-Telegram that was titled “A Queen in Distress.”

“If a breach did occur, there are no steel watertight doors that could be sealed and no way to pump out water because the bilge system is inoperative. Any major flooding could cause the ship to sink to the lagoon floor,” the newspaper article quoted from the marine survey. “In addition, the pillar supports for a raised false floor in the exhibition space (where events are held) are corroded throughout, and could cause immediate collapse under the weight of just a few people,” the newspaper added.

The report estimates that the total cost of repairs could range from $235 million to $289 million, and said the work could take up to five years to complete. Roughly 75 percent of the repairs were deemed “urgent” in the study.

Mary areas of the ship have become so “severely deteriorated” that they have been closed off from public view. The sewage system leaks constantly throughout the ship, storm drains are plugged, covered and abandoned, and the Queen Mary’s entire electrical system that would seal off doors in the event of an emergency are inoperable, the Press-Telegram quoted from the official report.

The condition of the ship also has been making headlines in Great Britain and especially in Scotland, where it was launched 81 years ago. Appeals have been made to Prime Minister Theresa May and Parliament for money to help save the old Queen from sinking. Long Beach officials have said they are making progress in raising the necessary funds to plug the leaks and stabilize the ship so it won’t sink at its berth in Long Beach Harbor.

If the money can’t be raised and the ship further deteriorates, perhaps the sheikh’s plan to cut it up into pieces and send the pieces to Las Vegas to be reassembled into a gigantic hotel-casino-resort-shopping center should be taken seriously this time. The London Bridge was carved up, sent to America and successfully reassembled across the Colorado River. Couldn’t this also be done with the Queen Mary? Almost anything is possible these days!

Meanwhile, the Queen Mary, despite her myriad problems, remains open to the public. If you plan to visit the old lady, be on the safe side and wear a life jacket. And carry an umbrella. The raw sewage and water leakage might be coming from the ship’s ceilings.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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