The vessel has long been viewed as a risk to harbor safety and navigation.

The 145-year-old vessel Falls of Clyde will be scrapped or scuttled after years of neglect.

A seven-year fight over ownership and repairs between the Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Friends of Falls of Clyde is ending after a recent survey deemed the ship a danger to the Honolulu harbor.

Bruce McEwan, the nonprofit’s president, says the department is attempting to delist the vessel from the National Register of Historic Places to streamline its removal or destruction. He called the end result a catch-22: “We can’t now argue the ship’s not a safety hazard,” and “we can’t argue against the delisting process,” he said.

The department did not make a representative available to comment.

Falls of Clyde, last remaining iron hulled 4-masted ship and only surviving sail-driven oil tanker in the world.  Berthed at Honolulu Harbor next to Aloha Tower and the Star of Honolulu. 7 april 2016.
The most recent survey of Falls of Clyde completed in March found the vessel was a danger to Honolulu Harbor. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

According to the survey completed in March, Falls of Clyde is the “sole surviving four masted, wrought iron sailing tank vessel from the windjammer days of sail.”

Falls of Clyde has been moored in the Honolulu harbor since 1963 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It operated as a museum until it fell into disrepair in the 2000s and risked being reefed.

But in 2008 the Friends of Falls of Clyde purchased the vessel to restore it and reopen it as a museum.

Years worth of repairs were estimated to cost millions of dollars, but in a supportive gesture the department issued the vessel a revocable permit and waived mooring fees. That allowed the nonprofit to triage general maintenance while raising nearly $1 million for dry docking to make essential structural repairs.

In 2016 the arrangement fell through when the department revoked the permit and demanded Falls of Clyde leave the harbor over safety concerns the ship could be unmoored in a storm.

Randy Grune, who was deputy director of the department’s Harbors Division from 2010 to 2014, said the vessel was consistently a safety concern for the harbor concerning major weather events. “It doesn’t look like much, but it could block the channel easily,” he said. “That’s the kind of risk it poses.”

The department impounded the ship in 2016 and later tried to auction off the vessel to remove it. Falls of Clyde International, affiliated with the local group, placed a bid to return the vessel to Scotland but that was rejected and no other qualified bids were received.

Permission to board and make repairs was revoked in 2019, according to McEwan.

In March 2023 the department contracted a consultancy group who subcontracted Joseph Lombardi, owner of Ocean Technical Services, to survey the ship’s status and recommend what do to. He determined it was a safety risk and needed to be removed from the harbor.

Falls of Clyde, last remaining iron hulled 4-masted ship and only surviving sail-driven oil tanker in the world.  Berthed at Honolulu Harbor with view of HEI, Hawaiian Electric decomissioned oil powered plant at Honolulu Harbor. 7 april 2016.
Falls of Clyde was impounded in 2016, when this photo was taken, and the Department of Transportation revoked its permit claiming it would be hazardous to the harbor during extreme weather. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

He also surveyed the ship in 2007 and advised it be reefed then due to it’s dilapidation. After returning to the vessel 16 years later, he said it was “far worse than when I left it.”

Surveys commissioned by the nonprofit in 2013 and 2016 determined the vessel was in “poor to fair condition” but “fit for its intended purpose as a moored museum ship.” Both reports claimed it wasn’t “a safety or navigation risk in its current condition.”

McEwan doesn’t dispute the most recent assessment. “Fifteen years I’ve been fighting this battle,” he said.

In May the department posted a notice of public auction of a 65-year lease for pier 7, where Falls of Clyde is moored. The rent would start at $300,000 and increase to $435,000 over 25 years. The terms of use state it will be used “for a museum and related facilities.”

Falls of Clyde launched in 1878 as a fast sailing vessel to transport goods internationally. Later it was repurposed by Captain William Matson – founder of Matson Navigation – to transport sugar from Hawaii.

Eventually Falls of Clyde was converted into an oil tanker with a 756,000 gallon capacity.

Clarification: Joseph Lombardi was contracted by the department through a third party.

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