Inspection reports raise concerns over Queen Mary safety and maintenance

The historic Queen Mary is falling into further disrepair due to inadequate maintenance and safety upkeep, according to recent inspection reports reviewed by the Post.

The monthly reports by city-hired engineer Edward Pribonic express growing concern over the conditions as leaseholder Urban Commons works to repair the aging vessel.

Pribonic has been inspecting the Queen Mary for more than two decades. His more recent reports describe broken handrails, carpets held together with duct tape, corroded fire hoses and a rusted submarine in danger of sinking.

“Conditions in most areas of the ship are declining,” Pribonic wrote in one report. “Maintenance is inadequate, likely caused by inadequate staffing and funding. Projects begun with (city) funds remain unfinished and many others not begun, allowing further deterioration.”

Urban Commons signed a 66-year lease to operate the city-owned Queen Mary in 2016. As part of the lease agreement, the city allocated $23 million to fix some of the most critical repairs listed in a 2015 marine survey, while Urban Commons is on the hook to fund the remaining repairs. The marine survey projected costs of up to $289 million for urgent repairs over the next several years, however Urban Commons disputes that figure.

The initial $23 million ran out last year and some projects were sidelined as many critical repairs ran over budget. Fire safety repairs, for example, were initially projected to cost $200,000, but the cost ballooned to $5.29 million to fix an outdated sprinkler system that apparently hadn’t been touched in decades.

Under the lease agreement, Urban Commons must fund the ongoing maintenance and repairs, but as a private developer, it doesn’t have to say how much it’s putting in or where it’s getting the money. A company representative could not be reached for comment Monday.

Photo taken from a monthly Queen Mary inspection report.

In an interview last year, Dan Zaharoni, Urban Commons’ chief development officer, said the company anticipated challenges in renovating the 83-year-old ship. But he said many critical repairs have been done and that the ship is “safer and more structurally sound” than it has been in decades.

However, inspection reports from April through June (the most recent available to the public) raise many safety concerns, particularly with the maze areas for the popular Dark Harbor Halloween event. The annual event, which kicks off Thursday, draws thousands of visitors through winding ghost mazes in the ship’s iron bowels.

A May report noted that some props and materials from last year’s event were still left in maze areas and had not been flame proofed. A report from June questioned deficient wiring and ongoing hazards from light bulbs removed from fixtures.

“There has been no noticeable activity to repair deficient wiring in the maze areas,” the report said. “The continuing lack of response to this and other issues discussed… create significant doubt about the maintenance and safety upkeep of the property.”

Photo taken from a monthly Queen Mary inspection report.

Johnny Vallejo, the city’s property services officer who oversees the Queen Mary, said the city has noticed the growing concern over maintenance and safety issues in the reports and will take a stronger role in working with Urban Commons to address the problems.

“We see the same trend, and we’re now looking at trying to identify where those maintenance deficiencies are specifically and working with Urban Commons on a plan,” he said.

Urban Commons is responsible for organizing and funding its own maintenance plan, but Vallejo said the city has some recourse if it believes the company is not honoring the terms of the agreement. The lease mandates that the ship be maintained in “first class condition,” he said.

Vallejo said the city-commissioned monthly inspection reports, which are publicly available, are a way to hold the company accountable. The city has not yet released the reports from July and August.

“The fact that there’s this level of information being shared and available, I think it shows everyone we’re serious about addressing this,” he said.

Urban Commons is aware of the issues and has not given any pushback to the city’s requests, he said.

As for any safety concerns about the Dark Harbor event, Vallejo in an email said the concerns noted in the reports regarding the maze areas are for the months when the mazes are not active for Dark Harbor. Flame proofing is required as part of the city’s special event permit. The area is not flame proofed at other times outside of the event because the area is closed to the public, he said.

“The Dark Harbor event has been a safe and successful event for years,” he said. “During the Dark Harbor permitted event, all maze areas are flame proofed by certified applicators, which is reapplied periodically throughout the event. Further, the event’s spaces are inspected daily by Fire Department personnel, and Fire Department personnel are present at all times during event operations. The safety of those enjoying this highly popular event is paramount to all involved.”

While the monthly reports note concerns, a progress update released in a city memo on Monday noted that the city and Urban Commons have made significant progress on many critical projects listed in the marine survey. As of September, work has been completed or is in progress on 19 of the 27 projects originally identified, according to the memo. Funding is needed for eight additional projects, including two “critical” projects.

One top priority is the condition of the ship’s 22 suspended lifeboats, which are rotted and corroded in several areas and may be “at risk of falling from the ship or breaking apart,” the memo notes. The estimated cost to remove the lifeboats is $2.3 million.

The city is also prioritizing repairs to the ship’s side shell and bridge wings for a projected cost of $4.7 million. The side shell, which connects to crane devices that support the lifeboats, is corroded and deteriorated, the memo notes.

Although no funding source has been identified, the city is working with Urban Commons on construction cost estimates.

The renovation is part of Urban Common’s larger plan to develop the 64-acre waterfront as a premiere entertainment destination. Plans are pending city approval, with a projected grand opening for 2023.

*Editors note: This article has been updated with the city’s clarification to inspection reports regarding the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor event.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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