Red Hook seafarers: Save our ship!

Red Hook seafarers: Save our ship!
Photo by Bess Adler

An historic fuel tanker is sinking in a sea of red tape — and its captains fear they must sell the floating cultural center for scrap if they can’t find it a permanent port by April 30.

PortSide NewYork, a maritime education group, has been waiting three years to anchor the Mary Whalen at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, but after long-stalled negotiations with the city and the Port Authority, the neighborhood’s seafarers say they can wait no longer.

“The Atlantic Basin is not going to come through for us,” said PortSide’s founder Carolina Salguero, who spent $125,000 refurbishing the Mary Whalen’s Depression-era hull. “Now we need help focusing on the future.”

In 2009, the city’s Economic Development Corporation offered PortSide the chance to move the Mary Whelan from its home at the Red Hook container terminal to Pier 11 — both properties that are managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Supporters of the 74-year-old ship — which has been a swaying stage for opera, historic tours and even a supper club since 2008 — cheered the proposal to dock at the unused pier just south of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, especially after federal security measures tightened, preventing PortSide from hosting more than five visitors at a time and making it impossible for Salguero to stage large events or big fundraisers for her educational programs.

But the plan to steer the Mary Whalen into Pier 11 hit murky waters — and it’s not clear who was at the helm when the proposal ran aground.

Salguero refused to comment on why she can’t anchor her boat at Pier 11, saying only that she is desperately seeking help to find a new port.

Jennifer Friedburg, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation, said that the city was working with PortSide “to find an equitable solution” for the riverside art facility.

The Port Authority didn’t respond to requests for comment, but an insider told The Brooklyn Paper that neither the city nor the waterfront agency

are at fault — saying that Salguero didn’t secure the required fundraising for the site.

Salguero denied that there was any problem with her paperwork or fundraising, and said revenue really wouldn’t be a problem if she could dock at Pier 11, where the ship could host weddings and even serve as a docking station for tugboats.

Betsy Haggerty, a maritime journalist, said it would be heartbreaking to lose what is likely America’s only retired oil tanker-turned-art space.

“The sad part about all of this is that there’s so much waterfront in New York and few places where you can dock a historic ship,” said Haggerty, a former president of the North River Historic Ship Society. “The Mary Whalen is one of our last historic ships, and she can tell a great story.”

About 30 residents showed up in support of the Mary Whalen at a community meeting Monday night at Long Island College Hospital, where Salguero asked for donations to keep PortSide going.

J.J. Burkard, a Red Hook resident and historian, called on the city to save the sinking ship.

“I would hope and pray that every one of us is tuned into the same dream to tear this dark cloud down that hovers over the Mary Whalen,” said Burkard.