Navy: Museum ship can be boost to tourism

A Navy expert on bringing museum ships to a town says it’s not easy, but it can happen, especially with a lot of local and political support.

Towns that end up with a ship museum are glad they did, said Ryan Szimanski, executive director of Historic Naval Ships Association. “Having a museum ship is a great boon to a local economy and local tourism. It’s a ready-made museum.” Szimanski said if there is a pier with power and nearby parking, it’s “relatively easy to get a cultural attraction ready to go.”

Szimanski said a similar Gayety minesweeper that Louis Charles Hoffmann Alloin wants to bring to Bainbridge Island was brought to Omaha, Neb. The USS Hazard (AM-240) was launched Oct. 1, 1944 by the Winslow Marine Railway & Shipbuilding Corp. on Bainbridge Island. The Hazard was fitted for both wire and acoustic sweeping and could double as anti-submarine warfare platform. The Admirable class of minesweepers were also used for patrol and escort duties.

Hazard first served as an escort from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor, then running convoys to Eniwetok and Ulithi. In March, 1945, the sweeper was sent to Okinawa to perform anti-submarine patrols before sweeping the waters off Kerama Retto. The ship’s slogan was “No Sweep, No Invasion.”

After serving in the war, the USS Hazard was decommissioned in 1946 and struck from Navy records in 1971. A group of Omaha and Houston business people formed the USS Hazard Corp. that negotiated USS Hazard’s sale. They outbid the Mexican and Portuguese governments for the minesweeper. They purchased the ship and paid to have it towed up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 1974 on a barge.

Szimanski said it’s fortunate that the Gayety is in the Philippines because it’s more difficult to get a Navy ship donated. Ships in foreign hands usually don’t have as many restrictions. “It was not always that way,” he said, adding it was common in the 1960s and ’70s for a Navy ship to become a museum. “It was just as cheap and easy as it was to scrap a ship.”

They are tougher to obtain now because the World War II ships are reaching their maintenance milestone. They have to be dry-docked every 15-20 years. That can be costly, depending on the size of the ship. A ship from Turkey twice the size of the Gayety now in Key West, Fla., cost $2.5 million to dry dock.

Such projects often are taken on by groups of veterans, with the support of city and state governments. Nonprofits can be formed to do the job. A group of veterans in Albany, N.Y., rode a ship back from Greece, Szimanski said as an example.

“The Navy will not spend a dime trying to get it back,” he said of the Gayety. “The Philippines can dispose of it anyway it sees fit.”

Szimanski said since the Gayety is seaworthy it wouldn’t be as expensive as it would be if it needed a tugboat or other assistance.

He said sometimes the process can take a couple of years, depending on negotiations with the owner, in this case the Philippines. Sometimes the buyer needs to meet certain fundraising goals before taking control of the ship.

Regarding Alloin’s goal of taking the Gayety out on Puget Sound, that is administered by the Coast Guard with strict rules. If it is moored at a pier it falls under the local fire marshal and building code.

“The Gayety is the right size,” for that type of venture, said Szimanski, who for 16 years has worked with putting people in touch with officials to make museum ships happen.

He said groups that want to bring museum ships to town are determined. “Folks who try to make this happen almost never give up,” he said, but sometimes supporting organizations will pull back support if the process takes too long. “That’s how these sorts of things die out.”