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Richmond Loses Tugboat to Hampton

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“I’m sorry Richmond did not take a very proactive stand on this,” Robinson says. “In the long term, it’s better for us to be in Hampton.”

The Tamaroa, originally commissioned as the USS Zuni in 1943, served extensively in World War II, became renowned for saving lives when ordinary ships were inoperable in severe weather. It also was the tugboat that saved lives in Junger’s book, later made into a movie starring George Clooney.

Robinson says the boat would have been a great tourist draw for a city steeped in maritime history. He also says that losing the tugboat to Hampton factored into the recent decision to move the Annabel Lee to Washington. (An official at Norfolk-based Spirit Cruises LLC, which owns the Annabel Lee, said the decision to move the cruise ship was purely business related.)

Richmond officials say they wanted the tugboat in town, and had simply requested a detailed financial plan for operating the boat here before making a commitment, something the Tamaroa Foundation couldn’t produce.

“We were very interested in it,” says Deputy City Manager William Harrell. “We just needed a financial plan for managing the boat, which one wouldn’t think would be unreasonable.”

Harrell sent Robinson a list of “due diligence” requirements that needed to be addressed before the city committed to the Tamaroa. Among the requirements: A five-year business plan; audited financial statements; proof that the Coast Guard approved the Tamaroa’s moving to Richmond; and an escrow deposit that would cover the cost of moving the ship should the foundation go belly up.

Those requests were unreasonable, Robinson says. Before the fund-raising could begin in earnest, the Tamaroa needed a home. The foundation expects to turn the boat into a museum exhibit of sorts, and restore it to full glory over the next few years. The group already has commitments from the U.S. Navy, which plans to use the vessel for training, and the Boy Scouts of America, which plans to use the tugboat for its Sea Explorers programs. But federal money won’t be available until later, he says.

“We’re not going to make any more attempts to come to Richmond,” Robinson says. “Unless Hampton changes its mind, we’re going to Hampton.” — Scott Bass

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