PortSide Steps Up Efforts To Save Mary A. Whalen

April 18, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff

By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

RED HOOK — PortSide New York, the organization that owns the retired oil tanker and former cultural event venue Mary A. Whalen, is stepping up efforts to raise funds to find a new home for the historic vessel.

While the Mary A. Whalen has a temporary home at the Red Hook Container Port, new security rules announced by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 make it very difficult to present public events there, according to Carolina Salguero, PortSide’s founder and director. If visitors don’t have a federal Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card, they have to be escorted for five blocks from the gate to the ship.

Because these security regulations also made it difficult to run an office from the ship, PortSide has moved its office to a space at 145 Columbia St. donated by property manager Beth Kenkel, a supporter of the organization.

Also within the building, says Salguero, is a new home for PortSide’s collection of nautical artifacts. These will soon be sold to raise funds.

Many of the items are from the old Todd Shipyard, which was destroyed to make room for the Red Hook IKEA store. “We have interior building signs, foundry molds, big wooden crates, old hand trucks, antique scales, ship placards, sacks that held coffee or cocoa beans,” says Salguero.

Lest readers be tempted to get out their checkbooks or credit cards, however, a sale of these items is still in the future.

Since PortSide doesn’t have experience in the antiques business, the organization is querying antique stores about prices and the nuts and bolts of selling these items.

In addition, PortSide is continuing its online petition drive, at http://chn.ge/PortSideSOS. If PortSide doesn’t find a home for the Mary A. Whalen by April 30, the organization may be forced to close, and the ship could be scrapped because there are few commercial uses for it.

Salguero added that the problem of finding space for old historic ships is not limited to the Mary A. Whalen. When the city started to revitalize the waterfront, she said, it gave most of its attention to developing the land, or the green space, and not enough to the water, or the “blue space.”

“Lots of historic ships are having trouble getting piers,” she said. “Even the South Street Seaport has more boats than it has pier space.”

Among the programs PortSide presented aboard the Mary A. Whalen before the new security regulations took effect were a performance of the Puccini opera Il Tabarro, folk concerts and numerous ship tours.

The Mary A. Whalen delivered fuel up and down the Atlantic coast from the 1930s, when it was built, until 1994, when it was decommissioned. In 1995, the ship came to Red Hook, where it served as a dock and office for Hughes Marine, a maritime firm. In September 2006 it was acquired by PortSide New York.