Neglected Russian submarine poses threat to Queen Mary, city says

The Soviet submarine that has been moored next to the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction for more than two decades is so badly corroded that it’s in danger of sinking or rolling and possibly damaging Long Beach’s historic ocean liner, according to court documents.

The Cold War-era “Scorpion,” which has been closed to visitors since 2015 due to safety concerns, has been largely neglected over the past several years as city inspection reports revealed rust and even a raccoon infestation.

Now, the city of Long Beach is battling the Queen Mary’s former operator over who is responsible for paying millions of dollars to remove the deteriorating relic that spans the length of a football field.

Former Queen Mary operator Urban Commons Queensway opted to give up its lease to the city this month after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which gave Long Beach control over the ship’s operations for the first time in more than 40 years. Long Beach owns the Queen Mary but for decades has leased the vessel to various operators that have struggled financially.

The city is now discussing future plans for the Queen Mary, but the future of the Scorpion, and who owns it, remains somewhat of a mystery.

In 2019, the sub’s owner, a Palm Springs-based company called Newco Pty Ltd., was reportedly in the process of selling the vessel to a mystery buyer, but it is unclear if that sale went through. Robert Lisnow, a lawyer for Newco Pty, could not be reached for comment Monday. 

The city in documents filed in Delaware bankruptcy court on Friday says the Scorpion is possibly the “personal property” of former operator Urban Commons, or the sub was left in its possession. Either way, the city argues that Urban Commons is responsible for the “removal and scraping” of the submarine and that the city should not be left with the burden since the sub is not covered under the Queen Mary lease agreement.

In a recent tour of the Queen Mary property, city officials learned that the sub is “taking on some water” and does not have a bilge pump, leaving it in danger of sinking and/or rolling and possibly damaging the hull of the Queen Mary, according to court documents.

If left abandoned, the Scorpion could pose an environmental hazard or public safety threat, the city said. The city estimates that it would cost millions of dollars to remove the sub, which is surrounded by a thick rock wall.

The city is asking a bankruptcy court judge to deny any efforts by the former operator to abandon the submarine. A hearing is scheduled for July 7.

The sub was the subject of a previous lawsuit in 2016, when owner Newco Pty Ltd. claimed former Queen Mary operator Save the Queen LLC, neglected maintenance. Save the Queen countered that Newco was responsible for repairs.

The case was later dismissed, and Urban Commons said it would have to pay the bill to remove the sub since the owners likely didn’t have the money. Urban Commons, however, fell into its own string of financial problems and the vessel remained untouched.

The Scorpion was commissioned in 1971 and operated with the Russian Pacific Fleet before it was decommissioned in 1994. Palm Springs resident Ed Skowron bought the vessel for $970,000 and transported it to the Queen Mary on a heavy-lift ship in 1998.

In addition to the issues with the Scorpion, the city is continuing to battle Urban Commons in bankruptcy court over a litany of failed lease obligations.

In court documents filed Friday, Long Beach said Urban Commons still owes the city $50,000 in rent for the months of January and February, in addition to more than $44,000 in utilities and $300,000 in caretaker expenses for the ship.

The city said Urban Commons also has not paid county property taxes on the Queen Mary as part of its lease agreement since at least 2019. The Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector has filed two claims—one for $848,112 and another for $5.2 million. 

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She 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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