Future of 'Queen Mary' liner lies in Long Beach harbour

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of the Clyde-built Queen Mary, once the most glamourous liner on the high seas, appears to have been resolved after months of uncertainty. She will remain in California, where she has spent the last 25 years.

The city of Long Beach has agreed to lease the 81,237-ton vessel to a Californian businessman, despite the harbour department's earlier ambitions to sell her to a consortium which was planning to move her to Hong Kong.

The new operator of the former pride of the Cunard fleet is Joseph Prevratil, a business consultant who administered the ship during the mid-1980s. He heads a group which plans to keep her as a tourist attraction and hotel moored in Long Beach, near Los Angeles.

The decision follows months of speculation about the ship's fate which began in March when her operators, the Walt Disney Company, decided not to renew its lease after abandoning plans to build a theme park in the city. An engineer's report found parts of the liner were rusting and leaking, and sections of her 12 decks were buckled. She needed repairs which would cost dollars 27m ( pounds 17.7m).

The Queen Mary made her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1936, and had a long career carrying the world's leading figures across the Atlantic - passengers included Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, the Duke of Windsor, Fred Astaire and Elizabeth Taylor.

But the growth of air travel made her unprofitable, and in 1967 she was sold to Long Beach for dollars 3.45m, becoming a regular fixture on Pacific harbour's skyline. In 1988, Disney acquired the lease, but found her a loss-maker.

Long Beach harbour department then put the vessel out to tender, and drew up a list of 18 proposals, including one to return her to Southampton. Commissioners favoured a plan from a consortium that proposed to move her to Hong Kong but, after pressure from local residents, decided to give California a final chance by transferring her to Long Beach city council. It remains to be seen whether Mr Prevratil, who has a five-year lease, can improve her fortunes. Although 800,000 people visited the Queen Mary last year, she has failed to attract enough tourists to make a profit.