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State of Hawaii Moves Closer to Disposing of Historic Sailing Tanker

Sailing vessel Falls of Clyde at her berth in Honolulu
Courtesy Save the Falls of Clyde

Published Dec 31, 2023 10:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The historic sailing tanker Falls of Clyde could soon be removed from Honolulu's harbor, ending a long-term effort to save the vessel. 

The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) has prepared a draft environmental assessment (Draft EA) report outlining plans to remove the decaying Falls of Clyde from Pier 7 in Honolulu Harbor, where it has been docked since 2016.

In the report, HDOT revealed plans to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the removal of the ship, which is severely corroded, leaking and has lost its structural and watertight integrity. The current state of the 1878-built ship, which is the world's last surviving sail-driven oil tanker, means that it poses a risk of structural failure and sinking. The agency warns that this could threaten harbor safety and maritime operations.

Plans to float an RFP for the removal of the ship come just a month after it was delisted from the Hawaii Register of Historic Places. The state government contends that due to significant deterioration, the Falls of Clyde has lost most of the qualities of historic significance and aspects of integrity that originally led to its listing in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The ship had been designated owing to its exceptional national significance as the oldest surviving American tanker and the only surviving sailing oil tanker left afloat - not only in the U.S. but the world.

Though owned by the nonprofit Friends of the Falls of Clyde, the state government took over the vessel's management seven years ago over safety concerns.

In the 346-page Draft EA, the state has analyzed the potential environmental consequences of removing the ship and presents alternatives for accomplishing the task. The report highlights that the method of removal and the ship’s ultimate disposition is yet to be determined and will be up to the selected contractor.

In the Draft EA, the state had outlined five alternatives for dealing with the vessel: no action, drydock and repair, removal by dismantling, removal at sea by sinking and third party acquisition.

Falls of Clyde is the world’s only surviving iron-hulled, four-masted, fully-rigged ship. She was built in Glasgow in 1878, during a shipbuilding boom inspired by increased trade with the U.S, and she made several voyages to American ports while under the British flag. In 1898, she was purchased by Captain William Matson of the Matson Navigation Company and reregistered in Hawaii.

From 1899 to 1907, the ship was re-rigged as a bark for sailing with fewer crew, and she made over sixty voyages between Hawaii and San Francisco, carrying passengers, sugar and general cargo. She was sold San Francisco-based Associated Oil Company, which installed large steel tanks in the hull, allowing her to carry 750,000 gallons of liquid bulk. For decades, the ship would bring kerosene to Hawaii and molasses back from Hawaii to California.