Digest>Archives> July 2006

Lightship Sinks

Who's to Blame?

By Timothy Harrison


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Photos by John Sladewski

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After years of neglect, one of America’s few remaining lightships may have finally met its fate this past June 1st when the 133-foot vessel took on water and rolled on its side.

This proves once again that historic vessels or structures, even though they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the lightship, receive no protection or help under the historic register.

Built in 1930, the LV114 WAL 536 served in its time as the Fire Island Lightship, Diamond Shoal Lightship, Portland Lightship and Pollock Rip Lightship. Decommissioned in 1971, it was sold to the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1975 and renamed the New Bedford Lightship.

Lightships are really floating lighthouses and were stationed in areas where it was either too dangerous or expensive to build a lighthouse. Lightship duty was considered the most dangerous of all duty, since the vessel was not allowed to leave its position regardless of the weather.

Apparently the New Bedford Lightship previously had been taking on water and the city said they had been periodically pumping the water out. However, anything short of a rupture could mean that the city wasn’t paying attention to the vessel.

Preservationists have been clamoring about the lack of care of the historic vessel for years. The city had drawn up detailed plans to save the vessel; but they were never able to obtain the necessary funding to implement the plans.

Although lightship aficionados complained loudly about the condition over the years, no local group was ever organized to save the old ship.

This incident makes it obvious that having stewardship of an historic property does not mean it can be saved unless there is money to do it. And money cannot be raised unless people take an active interest to work to raise the money.

Many people often wonder why the nonprofit preservationists are constantly seeking and asking for money for preservation projects. The answer can be seen with the New Bedford Lightship. In most preservation efforts, there is no second chance.

The Monday Morning Quarterbacks will ask why this was allowed to happen, but when nonprofit preservation groups ask for funds and get either a minimal amount or in most cases nothing, it places historic preservation in grave danger by those same people who give no second thought to the dilemma they helped create.

We may have to face a grave reality and without a major miracle, the New Bedford Lightship may now be lost forever.

This story appeared in the July 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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