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Queen Mary Struggles To Stay Afloat — In More Ways Than One

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With its operator bankrupt and critical repair work left undone, the historic Queen Mary ocean liner is in danger of flooding — or even capsizing — at its adopted home in Long Beach, California.

queen mary

(Photo courtesy of Queen Mary Hotel)

Permanently docked in the city for over 50 years, the ship is one-of-a-kind, the sole preserved survivor of a time when grand ocean liners crisscrossed between America and Britain.

Launched in 1936, the Queen Mary held the Atlantic crossing speed record from 1938 to 1952. She played a key role as a troopship in World War II, and for decades carried passengers in comfort across the pond, making 1,000 crossings before falling victim to the jet age.

The ship is owned by the city and for many years was one of Southern California’s best-loved attractions. But in recent decades a series of companies have held a lease to operate the ship as a hotel, event space, and maritime museum, and all have run into financial problems.

Even the Walt Disney Company once operated the vessel but dropped its lease following a 1992 marine survey that identified $27 million of necessary repairs.

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Now the sleek-lined vessel sits in limbo, with an auction for its operating lease set for Friday, June 4. And with the release of a recent inspection report, the venerable Queen Mary’s future is even more clouded.

As reported by the Long Beach Post, the new study from a city-hired naval architecture and marine engineering firm says little urgent repair work has been done over the past five years, leaving the ship vulnerable to flooding or possibly even sinking to the seafloor.

The report says the ship’s hull has structural and watertight integrity issues and there is no working bilge system.

Documents state that the “current status of bulkheads and lack of a functioning bilge pump system and flood alarm system could lead to flooding throughout the ship, potential capsizing of the ship and life safety and environmental issues to the extent that flooding occurred.”

Photo via Queen Mary Hotel Facebook.

The Queen Mary — which has most recently served as a combo hotel/museum — has been closed since the start of the pandemic early last year, and the ship will now need significant safety repairs before it can reopen to the public, the city says.

The ship will not reopen until critical safety issues identified in the report have been remedied, the statement added.

“The city will continue to work through the bankruptcy court to ensure the current or future Lessee is required to complete these repairs.” 

It’s not clear if the auction will go ahead on Friday. Last week, the city of Long Beach filed a legal objection to prevent the sale, arguing the lease can’t be sold to a new bidder until the former operator makes good on its failed lease obligations. A judge will decide.

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The big question is who will want to take on the staggering cost of critical repairs for an attraction that has struggled to earn a profit.

The safety inspection, carried out April 28, says the ship needs an additional $23 million in urgent repairs just to keep it “viable” over the next two years.

queen mary ship long beach

That’s on top of $23 million that the city issued to former operator Urban Commons in 2017 to fix some of the most critical repairs listed in a marine survey. The money ran out before the work was completed, and the new report says urgent structural work hadn’t even begun. 

Those numbers may be just the tip of the iceberg. The Long Beach Post reports that a 2015 study commissioned by the city determined the ship required $289 million in urgent repairs, more than 10 times the $23 million it was able to raise.

The previous leaseholder Urban Commons had an ambitious plan to raise funds for a $250 million development project that would see 65 acres of waterfront property around the dry-docked ship become an “entertainment destination,” with restaurants, bars, sports facilities, a 200-room hotel, and other attractions.

That project has bogged down, partially due to strict environmental regulations for the waterfront land. 

Bruce Parkinson has written about cruising and the broader international travel industry for more than 25 years.

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