Corrosion Could Bring a Premature End to This Legendary Ship

New report sounds the alarm on the RMS Queen Mary

Queen Mary
The queen Supannee_Hickman/iStock

Once upon a time, the RMS Queen Mary was the height of luxury—an ocean liner that now represents a bygone era of travel. Since 1967, she’s been a permanent resident of Long Beach, California, and a reminder of the time when transatlantic travel was the height of modern comfort. But it turns out that the iconic ship is in big trouble. As Courtney Tompkins reports for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the queen is in danger of collapse due to corrosion.

A recent survey by engineers and naval architects delivered a dire message about Queen Mary’s health, Tompkins reports. They found that the hull is so corroded it could be vulnerable to flooding or a full-blown collapse, and that major flooding would be impossible to stop once it started. The group said that at least 75 percent of their recommended repairs—which would cost up to $289 million to complete—are “urgent.”

Soon after the news of the ship's troubles were published, the real estate firm currently operating the Queen Mary submitted plans to Long Beach officials for a $250-million development complex adjacent to the ship. Dubbed "Queen Mary Island," the ambitious project could help drive up revenue to finance the needed repairs to the ship, Roger Vincent at the Los Angeles Times reports. If approved, the development would span 65 acres of waterfront land and include major retail, more hotel rooms and a public amphitheater, in addition to about 20 concepts by London-based Urban Legacies like an indoor ice-climbing wall and simulated skydiving. 

The Queen Mary may have gotten a bad bill of health, but she was once the gem in the crown of the great ocean liners of her day. The ship was built in Scotland for the Cunard-White Star Line, and its maiden voyage was nothing short of spectacular. Newspapers called it “as regal a ship as ever ruled the waves” and gushed over its Art Deco interior, complete with multiple swimming pools, salons, libraries and even kennels for the dogs of the rich and famous. Stars loved the Queen Mary, which they used to crisscross the Atlantic in high style; among its famous passengers were Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire and Winston Churchill.

The ship even played a role in World War II, when it was painted gray and used to ferry thousands of troops across the Atlantic. Known as “the grey ghost,” it never encountered a single U-boat and was never fired on by bullets or bombs.

The Queen Mary was purchased by Long Beach for $3.5 million when she retired in 1967. Since then she’s become a beloved fixture in its harbor—and a source of local discontent due to a long string of financial crises, lease disputes, failed acquisitions, bankruptcies and other crises. Calls for her preservation have competed with the desire to turn the ship into a world-class tourist attraction. Today she is a hotel and event venue.

The Queen Mary is loved the world over, especially in Scotland where she was born. But to save the ship, action must be taken soon, Tompkins writes. Will the Queen Mary survive the latest chapter in her saga? It’s anyone’s guess. But given the good luck she’s enjoyed over the last eight-plus decades, she just might have a few more shipshape surprises in store.

(h/t Oceanliners Magazine)

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.