Friday, August 1, 2008

Falls of Clyde will be sunk unless rescue arrives soon

August 1, 2008
By Leanne Ta
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Falls of Clyde, formerly a main attraction in Honolulu Harbor, will be sunk next month unless a buyer comes forward with the millions of dollars needed to save it, the Bishop Museum said yesterday.

Plans to sink the 128-year-old ship, which has been serving as a centerpiece for the museum's Maritime Center, could be carried out in a matter of weeks, according to Blair Collis, vice president and chief operating officer of the museum.

Unless someone comes forward by Sept. 1 with a plan to save and restore the vessel, it will be sunk 15 miles off Honolulu Harbor, museum officials said.

"We don't want to dispose of the vessel but it's a very difficult situation," Collis said.

The museum is spending several hundred thousand dollars each year on insurance, labor costs and supplies associated with maintaining the ship, which has been closed to the public since last year, he said.

"This is a burden the museum is unable to continue to bear," he said.

Workers yesterday were preparing the ship to be towed from the harbor. A U.S. Coast Guard team will do a safety inspection today to make sure the ship, which has been stripped of its masts and rigging, is in proper condition to be moved from its berth at Pier 7.

Tentative plans had been set earlier this week to sink the ship on Tuesday. The museum had already contacted the Coast Guard to prepare for that.

Some members of the community, however, were outraged, saying that museum directors had "given up" on the ship. The Friends of the Falls of Clyde, a loosely organized group that has been trying to save the decrepit ship, said yesterday that it will make a last-ditch effort to save the vessel. The group is in the process of registering itself as a nonprofit organization.

"We're not giving up," said member Chris Woolaway. "There are people out there who are working really hard to find solutions to save her."

For about a month and a half, members of the group have been meeting with Bishop Museum officials once a week to negotiate the fate of their beloved ship.

Woolaway and others are working to raise awareness about the museum's plans to sink the ship. They hope that public outcry can "slow down the process," she said.

"This is a part of our history, and it has international interest, too. If they sink her, well, that's it," she said. "If she's gone, she's gone."

Historic ship
The Falls of Clyde is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Before it was de-rigged last month, it held the distinction of being the world's last remaining four-masted, steel-hulled, full-rigged ship.

"We've been talking to the Bishop Museum under the assumption that they were negotiating in good faith. Then all of a sudden word came down that they have plans to scuttle the ship on Tuesday," Woolaway said.

"There's now a feeling of distrust" among the negotiating parties, she said.

As of yesterday afternoon, neither the Friends of the Falls of Clyde nor the Coast Guard had been informed that the museum had decided to delay the Tuesday sinking.

The date was changed yesterday when museum officials became aware that three different parties are interested in adopting the ship. Two of the parties are from Hawai'i, while the third is an individual from Australia, said Collis, who declined to identify the parties.

"The situation changes quite rapidly," Collis said. "We don't have a new date set for its sinking but it could be set for later in the week, later in the month or beyond."

Collis said that the individual from Australia — dubbed by those involved as a "white knight" and ship's savior — provided a detailed memorandum at about 1 a.m. yesterday, which prompted a decision to push back the sinking of the ship.

"I've asked him to fly up here immediately, and I think he understands the urgency of the situation," Collis said.

No formal agreements have been signed yet, and museum officials have yet to meet with the man, whose name was not released.

Money pit
Joseph Lombardi is project manager with Ocean Technical Services, which has been hired by the museum to get the ship ready to be towed out of the harbor, whether it's sunk or sold.

The firm conducted a structural survey that concluded it would cost $24 million to $32 million to restore the ship to "a level of presentability at which the public can be aboard," Lombardi said.
If someone were to come forth with a plan to transfer the ship, it would cost upwards of $9 million just to stabilize the ship for offshore towing, he said.

Transferring the ship to Australia would require putting it in drydock, which would cost millions more, he said.

Meanwhile, workers continue to prepare the ship for a possible final fate, 1,800 feet down in the ocean.

"Right now, because we don't know what the 'white knight' is all about, we're going to have to assume that we're going to sink the ship," Lombardi said.

"We've already cleared the ship of 250 cubic yards of debris, stabilized its curatorial items, and taken its rigs down to make her more stable.

"She's in really tough shape, and I think she knows her days are limited."

The leaky vessel is currently being kept afloat by shore-based electrical pumps.