The long-derelict Falls of Clyde — saved over the years from a watery grave — now faces eviction from its Honolulu Harbor berth near Aloha Tower.
The 138-year-old iron-hulled, four-masted oil tanker has been ordered out of Pier 7 because it “poses an unacceptable risk to navigation in Honolulu Harbor and a safety and security risk to harbor users.”
The Department of Transportation issued the eviction order Thursday by revoking the permit that had allowed the Falls of Clyde to moor at Honolulu Harbor for free.
The Friends of Falls of Clyde, which owns the Scottish ship, was given 30 days to move the vessel and restore Pier 7 to a safe condition.
Bruce McEwan, president of the nonprofit group, said his organization has been in contact with the attorney general’s office to determine whether the DOT followed proper legal procedures in issuing the eviction notice, and also is planning to appeal the department’s decision.
The state Transportation Department, in a written statement, said it “recognizes and appreciates the historic and maritime value of the Falls of Clyde.” However, the state Harbors Division said it must meet its duty to protect Hawaii’s largest port, where 80 percent of the state’s commercial goods enter the state, and to ensure the state’s economy and commerce remain uninterrupted.
According to the DOT, attempts over the past seven years to work with the Friends to make arrangements to safely berth the vessel at Pier 7 for free have failed.
“The Friends of Falls of Clyde were asked to provide proof that they had the resources necessary to restore the vessel to a condition that would allow it to safely berth in Honolulu Harbor. They were unable to meet this request,” the Transportation Department said.
However, McEwan rejected what he described as “unsubstantiated claims” by transportation officials that the vessel poses navigation, safety and security risks in the harbor.
McEwan said Friends provided the state with technical data and studies by their naval architect and engineers countering the state’s arguments a year ago, but that information was rejected without talking with the group’s experts.
McEwan said the state’s position is “purely opinion without analysis.”
McEwan said the Falls of Clyde has been berthed at Pier 7 during two governors’ administrations, and the state has never asked the organization to pay, which he said it would have been willing to do.
“We have impressed upon state officials that the work we are doing and our mission is consistent with the state’s historic preservation strategy,” McEwan said. “We, along with Iolani Palace, are national historic landmarks which should be seen as prestigious, so there should be support for our efforts.”
McEwan said state harbor officials should be pursuing claims against a derelict vessel that has been berthed near the Falls of Clyde for more than a decade and “owes the state money, and apparently the state is doing nothing.”
He also said the nonprofit is struggling in its major fundraising campaign that was started last year to raise $1.5 million to dry-dock the vessel so its hull can be repaired. So far, the group has commitments of $145,000, he said.
“They (state officials) are pushing us but not giving us the time to really get our ducks in line to do the work we need to do,” McEwan said. “The pressure adds more stress than anything else.”
However, Shelly Kuni-shige, DOT spokeswoman, said the the nonprofit group was told in 2014 to correct the problems with the vessel or face eviction. She said the owners also were told in May that the state would be revoking its permit on Wednesday, “effectively giving the organization 60 days to make arrangements for their vessel and restore Pier 7 to a safe condition” by July 15.
The 266-foot vessel named after Scottish waterfalls was launched from Port Glasgow, Scotland, in 1878.
The vessel joined the Matson fleet in 1898 transporting sugar from Hilo to San Francisco. It was converted to an oil tanker in 1907 by its new owner, Associated Oil, but it also was used to transport molasses. In 1958 a private owner bought the ship and towed it to Seattle, hoping to find a city that would adopt it.
Several concerned individuals led by Honolulu Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss and other Hawaii philanthropists launched a grass-roots effort to save the ship from being sunk and used as a breakwater, raising $35,000.
The Navy towed the vessel in 1963 from Seattle to Honolulu, and it was opened to public tours by Bishop Museum in 1971.
During Hurricane Iwa in 1982, the ship sustained major damage when Pier 5 was destroyed.
Krauss founded the original Friends of Falls of Clyde, which then took over control of the vessel after receiving permission to berth it at Pier 7.
The vessel was closed for repairs in 2007, and the current nonprofit Friends of Falls of Clyde was formed a year later to take ownership to prevent the vessel from being scuttled.