The RMS Queen Mary, once a byword for elegance and engineering ingenuity, is languishing in the Californian port city of Long Beach, with experts cautioning that its structural integrity is at risk unless an extensive catalogue of work is carried out.
The City of Long Beach, which has regained control of the famous Clydebuilt liner after the financial collapse of the latest in a long line of leaseholders, has said some “critical repairs” will begin this month, including the installation of new bilge pumps and the removal of deteriorated lifeboats.
However, that programme of work will only amount to £3.7 million, a drop in the ocean compared to the £200m sum maritime experts say is needed to guarantee the ship’s future.
Officials in the US city previously gave the leaseholder, Urban Commons – a Los Angeles-based property firm - nearly £17m to bankroll critical repairs on the 88-year-old ship, but now admit they do not know how that money was spent.
It comes as QMI Restore the Queen, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for the ship's preservation, has appealed for Scots to help it raise funds to preserve the ship’s two remaining original lifeboats.
The organisation’s executive director, Mary Rohrer, said it was “reckless” and “truly embarrassing” the former Cunard liner, which has been closed to the public since May 2020, had been passed from leaseholder to leaseholder, instead of coming under the care of a non-profit entity.
In its pomp, the 77,000-ton ship, built by the former John Brown's shipyard in Clydebank, hosted the likes of Winston Churchill and US president John F Kennedy.
It was later converted into a floating hotel and has been a permanently moored attraction in Long Beach since 1967, where various leaseholders, including Walt Disney, proposed a series of ill-fated ventures, including a maritime theme park, casino and science fiction museum.
In 2017, Scotland on Sunday revealed how the first comprehensive inspection of the liner in a generation had uncovered a catalogue of faults which, unless addressed, could lead to it being mothballed within a decade. Five years on, little progress has been made.
The latest £3.7m tranche of funding has been approved by the California State Lands Commission, responsible for protecting the state’s natural and cultural resources. Jennifer Lucchesi, its executive officer, said the money was “immediately necessary for the health and safety of future occupants”.
Long Beach’s mayor Robert Garcia said it was the city’s responsibility to preserve and “properly care for the historic landmark”.
However, Jessica Alvarenga from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association said the repairs identified in the £3.7m programme of work should have been carried out with the £17m given to Urban Commons.
“The history of the Queen Mary is one of over 40 years of failure and multiple bankruptcies, coupled with ongoing corrosion that threatens the structural integrity of the hotel and vessel,” she said.
“These issues have rendered the ship unsafe for visitors, unable to operate as an attraction, and left with no course to follow.”