The Port of Long Beach should reject Queen Mary control, Assemblyman says

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell wants port officials to say no to the Queen Mary.

O’Donnell, a Democrat who represents Long Beach in the state Assembly and is retiring at the end of his current term, is the highest profile official to criticize the city’s proposed transfer of control over the ship to the Port of Long Beach.

On Aug. 25, O’Donnell, who chairs the Select Committee on Ports and Goods Movement, wrote in an op-ed published in the Grunion Gazette that the ship is a “well-documented voyage of mismanagement, missing public funds, structural deterioration and multiple bankruptcies” and a “failure as an attraction and as a public policy.”

In his op-ed, O’Donnell said he opposes the city’s plan, first floated last year, to transfer control of the ship to the port, saying it would detract too much from the port’s current priorities.

Officials with the mayor’s office and Port of Long Beach did not respond to requests for comment on O’Donnell’s op-ed.

Specifically, O’Donnell wrote that the transfer would delay the port’s “highly-touted Pier B railyard modernization and expansion project that will keep the port competitive amid soaring congestion and record cargo demands.”

In development for more than a decade, the $870 million Pier B project in West Long Beach is scheduled for completion in 2032, after portions of tracks open in 2024 and 2030. The project’s first phase alone will double the capacity of the existing Pier B rail yard.

“The main purpose of the port is not to provide entertainment,” O’Donnell told the Post.

Making matters worse, O’Donnell said the ship “has not proven to be a financially viable operation over the years.”

Repairs to the ship have long been estimated to require hundreds of millions of dollars, O’Donnell said.

“Where will that money come from?” O’Donnell asked. If port officials were to assume financial responsibility for the Queen Mary, the ship would also draw resources away from efforts to reduce air pollution, O’Donnell added.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are responsible for emissions, on average, of about 100 tons per day of nitrogen oxides—more than that produced by six million cars, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The pollution has plagued West Long Beach and surround cities for decades, leading to a higher incidents of lung diseases than in cities further from the port complex.

While the Port of Long Beach’s green initiatives have reduced emissions in recent years, progress slowed when freighter congestion began building outside the port.

Later in his Gazette op-ed, O’Donnell added that, “Throwing taxpayer dollars at repairs that have been avoided for years is no longer a responsible option to fix the Queen Mary.”

O’Donnell, who served on the Long Beach City Council from 2004 to 2014, includes himself in that assessment.

“The strategy for the Queen Mary has been hope, and we’re running out of hope,” O’Donnell told the Post. “Could more have been done? Yes, but that doesn’t mean [the ship] will be financially viable.”

Before any such transfer of control takes place, O’Donnell’s op-ed called for a full engineering and commercial review of the ship, conducted in an “open process.”

O’Donnell defined this as a certified third party coming in and fully evaluating the status of the ship, then sharing their full report with the public, he said.

In late June, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved contracts with Lloyd’s Register Americas Advisory Services and ABL USA for $127,795 and $143,110, respectively, to assess the ship’s condition. Lloyd’s Register will conduct a historic document review, onboard inspections and strength assessment, while ABL’s scope of work includes naval architecture services, including stability modeling, calculations for longitudinal strength, ballast and tank inspection and engineering support.

The reports will take about a year to complete, according to port officials.

O’Donnell said he has not discussed his views with Port officials, but added that “they would know my position from questions I’ve asked over the years.”

O’Donnell has publicly alluded to his skepticism about the future of the Queen Mary for a few years. In April 2021, he tweeted about his visit to the Port of San Diego, jokingly adding that “no, they do not want the Queen Mary.”

The Queen Mary, which was retired in 1967 following 31 years of service in peacetime and war, has been permanently docked in Long Beach ever since. Though owned by the city, the ship has been operated by a series of private firms. The last of which, Urban Commons, declared bankruptcy in 2021.

The ship has been closed to the public for more than two years, but city officials are planning to reopen the ship on Oct. 1.

Work has been ongoing through the year on $5 million in safety repairs for the ship. In May, the city removed 20 of the ship’s 22 badly corroded lifeboats, which were considered a safety hazard.

‘A betrayal you can’t even put into words’

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Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.
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