Fresh fears for Queen Mary amid claims 'urgent' repairs remain outstanding

The future of the RMS Queen Mary, one of Scotland’s most historic ocean liners, has been thrown into doubt amid allegations its operators failed to carry out millions of pounds worth of urgent repairs to the ailing ship.

The Clyde-built former Cunard liner, which once hosted the likes of Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy, has been languishing in the US for several years, but there are mounting fears for its long-term future after the firm responsible for its maintenance and repairs filed for bankruptcy.

Authorities in California claim that a catalogue of “urgent and critical repairs” has not been carried out to the ship, with millions of pounds in repair funds unaccounted for, and escalating concerns over its structural integrity.

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Martin Docherty-Hughes, the SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire, where the ship was built, described the situation as an “affront,” and said he would be raising with the US ambassador to the UK.

The Queen Mary was the pride of Scotland when she was launched from the former John Brown's shipyard in 1934. She went on transport nearly a million troops during World War II, and in peacetime, welcomed aboard presidents, prime ministers, royalty, and stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Astaire.

After she retired from service in 1967, the Californian city of Long Beach paid £2.8 million to turn her into a floating hotel. However, her fortunes have waned as a succession of lessees, including the Walt Disney company, failed to realise grand plans to use it as the centrepiece of tourist attraction initiatives.

The latest leaseholder, Urban Commons, a Los Angeles-based real estate firm, signed a deal with Long Beach authorities five years ago to oversee the ship until 2082. It planned to spend around £12m modernising its hotel offering - a scheme which included converting the ship’s boiler room into a nightclub - as part of a wider regeneration initiative.

But Scotland on Sunday revealed four years ago how a marine survey identified the need for £235m to overhaul the ailing liner, with controversy surrounding the project ever since.

The RMS Queen Mary faces an uncertain future after its operator filed for bankruptcy amid allegations of outstanding urgent repairs to the historic Clyde-built ocean liner. Picture: David McNew/Getty

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Dr Stephen Payne, who designed the Queen Mary 2, Cunard's current flagship, warned that the urgency of the repairs required meant that the liner could sink if attempts were made to tow her to a dry dock.

The municipal government in Long Beach allocated around £16.5m for the most “critical” repairs. The public money was drawn from reserves and a construction bond secured against oil revenues.

However, it now says that a significant amount of that work has yet to be carried out, adding that Urban Commons has not provided evidence that money was “properly used and accounted for.”

The city authorities have now gone to court seeking declaratory relief against the company after it filed for bankruptcy in January. Documents filed in court warn that the absence of necessary maintenance and repairs has caused “significant issues and damage” to the vessel.

They also detail a catalogue of critical disrepair to the famous 77,000 ton ship, noting that its side shell has started to separate from its deck supports, with severe corrosion to plates which connect beams and girders to columns.

A series of repair work is also needed to stop leaking and degradation of the ship’s hull so as to prevent flooding and ensure its structural integrity, it adds.

Docherty-Hughes, whose grandfather worked at John Brown’s in the yard’s heyday, said: “This desecration of Scotland’s working class industrial heritage is an affront to art and culture and I call upon the great and the good to use the full force of the law, to hold to account those who were entrusted with the great RMS Queen Mary.

“I will be raising this on the floor of the House of Commons and directly with the Ambassador of the United States as a matter of urgency.”

He added: “The great liners of Clydebank which still exist are more than history, they are an expression of the artistic genius of the workers of John Brown’s - working class men and women who worked in some of the worst conditions of the 20th century.”

The court filings, lodged with the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, states that many of the items “deemed urgent” on the Queen Mary more than four years ago “have yet to be repaired.”

The work was classed as urgent in the 2017 marine survey, but is deemed “more urgent now.” The filing adds that some of the repairs carried out by Urban Commons was done so “incorrectly,” or did not meet certain standards.

Diane Rush, a former president of the Queen Mary Foundation, said: “Neglect and ignorance has characterised Long Beach administrators' decisions regarding their one and only world-famous landmarks.

"Spending funds allocated for Queen Mary repairs was a waste of resources in their eyes.”

Bill Cwiklo, a former curator of the Queen Mary, said the situation facing the ship was “serious,” and pointed out that problems with its state of disrepair stretched back several decades.

He explained: “The shell plating has been an issue since the early 1990s. The preservation officer of the state of California offered to pay for 50 per cent of the cost of repair if the city of Long Beach paid the rest. The city tossed it back to the lessee and the lessee tossed it back to the city. Nothing happened and the state preservation officer withdrew the offer in disgust.“

The Long Beach government is currently discussing whether to transfer ownership of the vessel to the city’s harbour commission, but a final decision is not expected until the summer.

Urban Commons did not respond to a request for comment.

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