State upholds decision to impound historic ship at Honolulu Harbor


The Department of Transportation says it is allowed to impound, or take possession of, a historic ship docked at Honolulu Harbor.

Back in June, the department revoked a permit that allowed the Falls of Clyde to moor at Pier 7.

The DOT said the condition of the nearly-140-year-old ship poses a safety and security risk to harbor users, and its owner, the group Friends of Falls of Clyde, had 30 days to remove the vessel.

In August, the state served FFOC with notices that stated if the ship was not removed within 72 hours, it would be impounded.

It also rejected a plan that requested The Falls of Clyde remain until the group could secure funding to get it into dry dock or find a new owner outside of Hawaii, saying it failed to address the ship’s immediate removal.

An administrative hearing held later that month allowed both sides to present their arguments. According to the resulting Decision and Order issued this week, the hearings officer determined that the “Petitioner failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the basis for the State’s impoundment of the Vessel was wrongful and not in accordance with law.”

Read the decision in its entirety here.

The DOT issued the following statement Friday:

The impoundment of the vessel Falls of Clyde, upheld by the decision and order released yesterday by an impartial hearings officer, follows a series of discussions with the Friends of Falls of Clyde and thoughtful consideration of a number of factors including the condition and location of the vessel, the resources available to the Friends to properly care for its vessel, and the duty of the State to ensure Honolulu Harbor remains safe and navigable. The State has supported the work of the Friends of Falls of Clyde by making the berth available for this vessel at no charge for over seven years. In light of all the factors, the administrative law judge concluded the State acted responsibly and reasonably. While the State acknowledges the historic significance of the Falls of Clyde, it is ultimately the responsibility of the private owners to ensure this vessel is cared for, preserved, and restored. Going forward, the State is in the process of pursuing available administrative and legal options to remove the vessel from Honolulu Harbor.

FFOC board president Bruce McEwan says the group is considering an appeal and prepared to take legal action if necessary.

“We had provided them with information to offset the safety issue and they decided to ignore it. Basically they never gave us a specific safety concern that could be addressed,” he said, noting that with regard to seaworthiness “that’s a moot point, because seaworthiness under the law is a condition where the vessel has a reasonable fitness for its purpose. The purpose of Falls of Clyde is to be a stationary floating museum, a maritime museum. It has nothing to do with going to sea.”

FFOC argues that the ship has important, educational value.

“We should take pride in the fact that not only is she a symbol locally, but she’s recognized on a national basis, a national historic landmark,” he said.

McEwan says the board is open to finding a new owner, and the group has had inquiries from the U.S. mainland and Scotland. “We’re hoping something will mature,” he said.

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