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Deadline to Remove Falls of Clyde Approaches, Plan Remains Elusive

Ryan Finnerty

The Falls of Clyde began sinking in Honolulu harbor last week. The 280-foot iron-hulled sailing ship has been moored in Honolulu Harbor for decades, physically deteriorating in the process. A deadline is fast approaching to remove the vessel, but the plan to do so has yet to be finalized.

Workers at Falls of Clyde in 2019.
Credit Ryan Finnerty
An emergency effort was initiated on the night of January 31st, when it was discovered the Falls of Clyde was taking on water. The ship has since been stabilized.

The name “Falls of Clyde” comes from a series of waterfalls in the Scottish Lowlands. Falls of Clyde the ship was the first in a line of vessels named after waterfalls in the region. After twenty years as a British merchant ship, the Falls of Clyde was bought by William Matson, founder of the Matson Navigation shipping company. The ship was eventually converted into an oil tanker, bringing kerosene to Hawaii and sending molasses back to California.

Falls of Clyde changed hands several more times before permanently docking in Honolulu harbor where it was bought by the Bishop Museum and ultimately fell into disrepair.

Credit Ryan Finnerty
The seams of the Falls' iron hull were allowing water to seep through. The Friends of the Falls of Clyde cited high winds and heavy rain as the cause.

A plan emerged to sink the ship off Oahu and turn it into an artificial reef. That plan was ultimately defeated when the Falls was registered as a national historic landmark. A local group, Friends of the Falls of Clyde, emerged with a campaign to save the vessel. They purchased the Falls of Clyde for $1 in 2008.

But the campaign faltered and in 2016 the state Harbors Division impounded the deteriorating ship, citing a threat to port operations and pubic safety.

A Scotland-based group calling themselves Save Falls of Clyde International produced a plan to ship the Falls of Clyde back to Scotland permanently. The state set a deadline of February 6th, 2019 to remove the ship from Honolulu Harbor. But the plan collapsed when a contract with a private yacht transport company was cancelled. The two groups trying to save the ship have leveled blame for the cancellation at each other, citing funding, regulatory, and environmetnal challenges.  

Credit Ryan Finnerty

Both the local and Scottish non-profits remain committed to saving the Falls of Clyde. State regulators have given them until February 6th to demonstrate that they the necessary funds to remove the derelict vessel before the June 1st start of hurricane season. Should they not, the ship will be placed on auction.

It’s unclear if that will solve the ultimate problem of getting the Falls of Clyde out of Honolulu Harbor.

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