State officials have put out a bid for the disposal of the historic Falls of Clyde ship, with an upcoming deadline of Friday, to the objection of supporters still trying to save it.
The Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Harbors Division put out the bid in late April, requesting proposals for the “removal of the derelict sailing vessel Falls of Clyde from Honolulu Harbor” while complying with any and all federal, state and county laws.
The bids are due at 10 a.m. Friday.
Bruce McEwan, president of The Friends of Falls of Clyde, however, says there are two major problems with the proposal — that it assumes the ship is derelict, which the nonprofit disputes, and that a public hearing should be required due to the ship’s status as a national historic landmark.
“As owners of the historic ship Falls of Clyde, we again need to assert the fact that we have ownership rights and a fiduciary responsibility for the maintenance of the ship,” said McEwan in a recent letter to Derek Chow, Harbors Division deputy director. “You are already aware that we believe your labeling of the ship as derelict is not factual. We have never abandoned the ship nor given up any of our ownership rights. It was your unilateral action that created the situation.”
McEwan said as an owner, The Friends has a right to participate in decisions affecting the ship’s future, and that it is willing to work with the state to remove the ship under the best conditions possible.
In early 2019, McEwan said Friends has been banned from boarding the Falls of Clyde to perform maintenance, which has been turned over to an independent contractor.
There has been little communication with the Harbors Division during the pandemic, according to McEwan, and no response to the Friends’ request to remove artifacts left aboard.
“As a National Historic Landmark, no decision should be made until there is a public meeting to get input from stakeholders,” said McEwan in the letter. “Falls of Clyde has been an important part of the community for over 50 years and has a community memory. The ship was honored with a Resolution from the Legislature. These things alone warrant comments from the community. Friends of Falls of Clyde, Inc. is a Hawaii non- profit corporation and our board members and supporters are part of our community stakeholders.”
McEwan said the public hearing, with community input, on the future of the Falls of Clyde should be held before a decision on the bid is made. All options should be presented, and alternatives to scrapping it considered.
The 142-year-old ship is in need of repairs but remains stable at Pier 7, where she is docked, he said.
Chow, however, told the Star-Advertiser the state needs to take action because the Falls of Clyde poses a danger to Honolulu Harbor.
The state’s goal is to have the ship removed before hurricane season begins in June, he said.
“It does pose a danger,” he said. “If a hurricane hit Oahu or Honolulu Harbor, we’re afraid waves and wind will cause the ship to tip over sideways or sink, so we certainly don’t want that to happen.”
The state is also spending money annually on the ship’s maintenance and repairs, he said, including the patching up of holes. In addition, the state is unable to make needed repairs to Pier 7, where the ship remains docked.
Various parties have expressed interest, he said, and the selected bidder would be responsible for removing the ship and finishing consultations with the state Historic Preservation Division.
In an international plea of help, a Scotland-based group, Save the Falls of Clyde International, is also asking for support and funds to help transport the rare, four-masted, iron-hulled ship originally built in Port Glasgow to her birthplace.
“Once she is scuttled this iconic piece of our maritime heritage is lost forever from future generations,” said the group in a news release. “We are in desperate need of your support, by speaking out and with financial contributions. We need to get the ship lifted to the River Clyde where she will be restored.”
The group, in a news release, urged supporters to contact local officials and DOT to rescind the bids for disposal and to give it more time to save the Falls of Clyde. The group said it was also reaching out to Gov. David Ige’s office.
“We must prevent this substantial part of Hawaii’s and Scotland’s heritage from being discarded by deliberately sinking her at sea,” the group said in a news release. “We have the support of the entire maritime heritage community with support letters, and she is welcomed back in Scotland.”
The group in 2017 proposed that the ship be transported to her birthplace of Scotland and restored to her former glory, and serve as an eco-friendly “floating campus” on the River Clyde.
At least twice, the group said there were deals to transport her back to Scotland, and twice the deals to do so fell through before the state put her up for auction.
In February 2019, the state put the Falls of Clyde up for auction, requiring potential bidders to have a performance bond in the amount of $1.5 million guaranteeing removal of the vessel from the harbor within 60 calendar days from the bill of sale.
The auction, however, ended with no legitimate bid.
Only one bid was submitted, and it turned out to be a joke — a typed letter mailed through the U.S. Postal Service offering 25 cents signed by someone purporting to be Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.
Falls of Clyde, once owned by Matson, is the last of eight ships built by Russell & Company in Port Glasgow and named after waterfalls, supporters said. The other seven ships perished during World Wars I and II.
The historic ship was impounded by the state Harbors Division in August 2016.