On Christmas Day 1968, the “motor-tanker” Mary A Whalen, built in 1938 at Mathis in Camden, N.J., grounded near JFK Airport in the Rockaway Channel. The distribution of damages was finally resolved eight years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The vessel continued to trade until the early 1990s, hauling cargoes such as gasoline and heating oil. In 2006, she was purchased by PortSide New York, a non-profit community group. Over the past 10 years, she’s been gradually refurbished into a venue for educational programs and cultural events, with the idea of reminding New Yorkers about the important maritime heritage of Brooklyn — particularly Red Hook — the headquarters of the now defunct Ira S. Bushey & Sons shipyard and drydock.
As of June 1, the vessel will be located at the south end of Pier 11 in Atlantic Basin (a one time general cargo terminal) in Red Hook, right next to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The ship has been moved around in recent years while a permanent home was sought, and this new location will be readily accessible to the general public. According to Carolina Salguero, the former photojournalist who runs Portside New York, “Our first set of events will include Saturday daytime Tanker Tours … and a Sunday evening picnic aboard the vessel.”
The author and maritime historian Rick Spilman, well known for his The Old Salt Blog said, “The tanker Mary A. Whalen is a vital bridge between our past and future. She is an important reminder of our maritime heritage — of the rough and boisterous years when tugs, steamships and tankers … plied the harbor and our coastal waters.”
Indeed, at maritime gatherings around New York or following a call for volunteers to help with refurbishment, there is inevitably a one-time crewman who introduces himself to Ms. Salguero, herself from a shipyard family. Spilman continued: “Now, as the last of her kind, the historic ship provides a glimpse of a sustainable future through the varied programs of PortSide NewYork.”