Video: City begins demolishing historic Queen Mary lifeboats

For the Queen Mary’s lifeboats, it was a rather unceremonious ending.

Workers in protective gear early Friday were scraping away lead paint and an excavator with a large metal claw ripped apart the vessels for easier removal on a flatbed truck. It marked the final journey for most of the lifeboats after no qualified bidders stepped up to buy them from Long Beach.

As part of several critical safety projects for the Queen Mary, Long Beach this week began the process of disposing of 14 of the lifeboats that hung from the deteriorating ocean liner.

The boats, which measure about 36-feet long and weigh around 12,000 pounds, were removed from the ship in February via a large crane after the city determined they were a safety hazard and in danger of falling.

Of the ship’s 22 total lifeboats, three were identified for preservation, including two that were left on the ship. Five have been set aside for future consideration, city officials said.

“The removal of nearly 100 tons of weight has alleviated significant stress from the side shell of the ship and has allowed for further critical repairs to the internal support system to be conducted,” the city said in a statement Friday. “Additional work for internal structural repairs began this month and are anticipated to be completed later this year.”

The city was disassembling the boats per safety and environmental regulations, while working to identify some parts that could be saved and creatively repurposed, including props, rudders and other artifacts of interest, officials said.

Long Beach put the boats up for auction for museums, preservation groups and developers who might want to take one or all of the boats for restoration. The city said it also engaged with local, regional and national historical and preservation organizations, but in the end, only two proposals were submitted, and neither met the city’s requirements to show how they would safety transport and repair the vessels. 

In a costly caveat, any winner would have needed to provide their own transportation to cart the vessels off the Queen Mary parking lot, and they also would have had to sign a liability waiver since the boats contain lead paint. 

Completed in Clydebank, Scotland, in 1936, the Queen Mary originally had two smaller rescue boats and 22 lifeboats, which could fit as many as 145 passengers.

An assessment from architectural consulting firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates found that 15 of the boats are original to the Queen Mary, while the others may have come from other ocean liners.

The Queen Mary remains closed to the public while the city completes $5 million in critical safety repairs. The city plans to reopen the ship later this year.

A report released last year from marine engineering firm Elliott Bay Design Group says the Queen Mary would need $23 million in urgent safety repairs to stay “viable” over the next two years. A marine survey in 2016 found that the ship would need up to $289 million in repairs.

The next round of critical repairs will include improvements to the ship’s bilge pump systems and bulkheads, which support structural stability and help discharge water in the event of flooding.  

The city also will continue work on minor repairs including painting, lighting and other maintenance.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new details from the city on the lifeboats and Queen Mary repair projects.

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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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