The City of Long Beach authorized $5 million in critical repairs to begin the process of catching up on critical maintenance for the famed RMS Queen Mary. The beleaguered ocean liner, which became a hotel and tourist attraction 50 years ago, is suffering from years of deferred maintenance with the city seeking to address critical issues so that the ship can reopen to visitors possibly by the end of 2022. The ship closed in May 2020 citing the economic impact of the pandemic. 

Recent reports have estimated that the Queen Mary, which entered service in 1936 and became the fastest ocean liner on the Atlantic, requires at least $23 million in near-term repairs in addition to $23 million the city had committed in 2018 to the prior leaseholder for repairs. On January 27, 2022, the City of Long Beach Council provided $2.5 million in its 2022 budget for work to start in February, along with an additional $2.5 million requested to be presented to the City Council in the coming months.

During her career she carried over 2 million passengers plus serving as a troop ship in World War II 

The Queen Mary completed 1,001 Atlantic crossings covering nearly 3.8 million nautical miles before being retired by Cunard Line and sold to the City of Long Beach in 1967. The vessel then underwent the first of several significant overhauls with most of her mechanical areas removed and replacing wiring, plumbing, and other critical systems. Over the years, the vessel passed through numerous leaseholders including the Wrather Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, and various smaller companies that fell into bankruptcy in the early 2000s attempting to operate the aging ship.

In 2017, Long Beach commissioned the first comprehensive engineering study of the vessel in years, with the report detailing numerous critical issues and estimating the costs of renovations and upgrades at up to $289 million. Among the problems outlined were corrosion in the structural steel, an aging and inadequate bilge system, structural concerns with bulkheads, leaks, and safety hazards. A subsequent inspection in 2021 reported further deterioration, including the emergency generator was not working and needing replacement, the boilers that provide heat and hot water needing to be replaced, issues with the sewage holding tanks, and electrical issues, warning that the vessel could be in danger of flooding, sinking, or capsizing if the issues were not addressed.

Exterior repairs included painting the iconic funnels and hull, but she requires extensive structural maintenance (Allan E. Jordan photo)

“It is our responsibility to preserve the Queen Mary and ensure this historic landmark is properly cared for,” said Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach. “Now that the city has full oversight and control of the Queen, it’s important we make the critical repairs needed.”

The $5 million authorized by the city council will address two of the most urgent issues. The lifeboats, which are reported to be deteriorating in the davits, will be removed. The engineers reported that the lifeboats are putting stress on the side shell of the ship, resulting in severe cracks in the support system. Two of the 24 lifeboats will be retained by the city for future preservation while 13 will be offered to museums and other non-profits that might be interested in preserving them.

The second major project will install new permanent bilge pumps. The city also reports that additional improvements to the bulkheads, emergency generator, and a water intrusion warning system are forthcoming.

The City of Long Beach regained control of the Queen Mary for the first time in over 40 years in June 2021 after filing an objection to the sale of the lease on the vessel and surrounding land as part of the bankruptcy of its last operator, Urban Commons Queensway and Eagle Hospitality Trust. The city had entered into a 66-year lease with the company in 2016 with commitments for renovations for the ship as well as the development of a 66-acres entertainment complex alongside the ship. 

More than $20 million in projects reportedly were identified for the ship, but in a scathing report in November 2021, the city auditor said only seven of the 27 projects had been completed. The audit criticized the city’s agreement with Urban Commons saying it failed to address markups and management fees, did not include vetting of subcontractors, lacked competitive bidding for work, and approved purchases beyond the critical work.

The real estate trust set up by Urban Commons reported more than $500 million in debts in its January 2021 bankruptcy filing, including $41 million in repair projects for the Queen Mary as well as a long list of unpaid fees, taxes, and gaps in the liability insurance coverage for the ship. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware in November 2021 called two of the executives of Urban Commons “fraudsters,” with accusations that they had “fraudulently obtained PPP (Covid-19 aid) loans on behalf of the debtor without authority and absconded with the proceeds.”

“Addressing these critical repairs has been a long time coming and an effort that will greatly benefit the structural safety and historical preservation of the Queen Mary,” said Long Beach First District Councilwoman Mary Zendejas. “With the city now overseeing control of the ship, I am confident this year will bring tremendous progress towards protecting this historic feature of our community.”  

The city of Long Beach restored exterior lighting since regaining control in 2021 (Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau file photo)

Since regaining control of the Queen Mary, the City of Long Beach has already taken some steps, including repairs to the electric systems, circuits, and fixtures to restore the lighting of the vessel’s funnels. Experts highlight, however, that the 81,000 gross ton liner that has 314 hotel rooms along with restaurants, shops, and her former lounges used for events, conventions and functions, requires extensive upgrades. In July 2021, engineers presented the Long Beach City Council with three options that included investing $150 to $175 million for the next 25-years, preserving the ship for 100 years at an estimated cost of $200 to $500 million, or retiring and sinking or scrapping the ship for $105 to $190 million.

While the ship has rarely made a profit from its commercial operations, elected officials say the city has profited from the lease and the strong economic contribution to the region. Long Beach city officials say the Queen Mary has become a city icon worthy of their investments.

Source: The Maritime Executive