THE iconic steamer the TS Queen Mary is to return to her home port on the Clyde with a view to once again serving as a cruise ship around the west coast.
Labelled as “one of the crown jewels of Scottish shipbuilding”, she is one of the last surviving Clyde-built steamers in the world.
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Ranjan Chowdhury, the 45-year-old London businessman who owns the ship, has announced plans to tow the vessel back to Glasgow from where she currently rests in Tilbury Docks in London.
It is understood that £10 million is needed to restore the vessel, also known as the Glasgow Boat, to her former glory. A spokesman for the team behind the project confirmed the plan is to return “this treasure of the Clyde back to her home port in a matter of months”.
Funding is then to be sought to restore the ship to “her original operational condition”.
A spokesman said: “We have taken time to consider a sustainable, commercial model which we believe will provide stability and greater scope for self-funded service to the community as part of Queen Mary’s new incarnation.”
Glasgow charity TS Friends of Queen Mary has long campaigned for the vessel’s return and berthing beside the city’s Riverside Museum. But last night they said they remain “highly sceptical” about the owner’s intentions and the vessel’s ability to withstand the journey.
At present the TS Queen Mary is listing, can only be accessed by way of a ladder and is without electrical power.
However, the team behind the vessel’s return have issued assurances about her condition and they are confident of securing a certificate from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to allow her removal.
Once in place on the Clyde it is hoped the steamer will resume ferrying passengers to destinations such as Largs, Rothesay, Campbeltown and Brodick on Arran. The team behind the plans also intend to open the vessel up for use as an educational resource for city schoolchildren.
Negotiations are currently under way between the ship’s owners and Glasgow City Council about her return.
A Queen Mary spokesman said: “Our intention is that Queen Mary will be restored to an operational attraction to serve Scotland’s tourism industry and, locally, Glasgow city community interests and education programmes.”
In relation to the issuing of a load line exemption certificate by the MCA allowing the boat to be towed, he added: “We are advised by our marine consultant that it will be issued before the tow as a time-limited certificate, and is applied for closer to the time of a tow.”
The two-funnel Clyde steamer was built at the William Denny shipyard at Dumbarton for Williamson-Buchanan and carried 2,086 passengers, making her the largest excursion turbine on the river. She was retired from service as a cruise ship in 1977.
Robin Denny, whose family’s shipyard built the vessel, said: “I cannot express adequately my gratitude to the owners for her rescue, because had they not bought the ship, she would almost certainly have been scrapped.”
In her heyday the 252ft steamer operated daily excursions on the Clyde until she was laid up in the East India Harbour, Greenock, in 1977. In 1981 she was sold to Glasgow District Council but plans to use her as a maritime museum were soon sunk.
In 1987, brewers Bass Charrington acquired the ship and she underwent a multi-million-pound refit to become a floating entertainment venue on the Thames in London.
However, her days as a party ship ended in 2009 when Westminster Council refused to renew the lease for her berth. Since being auctioned off in 2011 to Chowdhury, she has languished at Tilbury.
Anthony Harvey, secretary of the Maritime Foundation, said: “Bringing this fine example of Scottish enterprise and engineering back to life is just the kind of exciting venture that’s needed to bring home to everyone the vital importance of shipbuilding and seafaring to the UK.”
This view is echoed by Martyn Heighton, head of National Historic Ships, who said: “TS Queen Mary holds the status of being in the National Historic Fleet of the United Kingdom as the sole surviving ship of her type from the 1930s age of elegance.
“To bring her back into operation is an imaginative and ambitious project.”