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New London — As the 175th anniversary of its namesake’s first stop in New London approaches, efforts are underway to make sure the replica schooner Amistad will be able to spend the weekend in New London.
The only problem, though, is that the ship does not yet have permission to dock here.
“We have been trying to set this up for many months, but because of various issues we were not able to set our date and schedule in time to get it before the Port Authority,” said Susan Tamulevich, director of the Custom House Maritime Museum and New London Maritime Society, which is organizing weekend events to commemorate the anniversary.
The Port Authority will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. today to formally consider Tamulevich’s request to allow a special event along Waterfront Park and establish the fee to dock the schooner at Amistad Pier.
“We received a request to consider a reduced dockage fee for Amistad to come in for this event,” Port Authority Chairman Jesse Marshall said.
Marshall said Tamulevich told the Port Authority during its regular meeting last week that the Custom House Museum had already raised $125 for the docking fee and asked whether Amistad would be charged a reduced rate.
The Port Authority decided to schedule a special meeting for today to take up a different matter and added Tamulevich’s request as well.
Tamulevich “approached us during public comments on Aug. 14 without a permit in place or a fee waiver form,” Port Authority Secretary Tambria Moore said in an email. “We gladly invited her to return with more answers and a permit in place this week at the special meeting in order to accommodate her in a timely manner prior to the arrival of the vessel.”
Moore said the Port Authority recognizes the significance of the 175th anniversary and sees it as “an opportunity for public education” and “a driver for tourism at Waterfront Park.”
“There is no barrier to the Amistad docking in New London other than the consideration of fees that would be incurred and payment of them, as would occur with any other vessel that seeks the hospitality of our harbor facilities for three days,” she said.
Tamulevich said the Custom House Museum will pay whatever fee the Port Authority decides to charge.
“It’s a matter of what the docking fee is,” she said. “We will be paying the regular fee; we’re not getting a pass.”
For tall ships like Amistad, the city’s docking fee is $150 per night, or $300 for three consecutive nights, according to the city website.
In addition to an official 175th anniversary commemoration event at 6 p.m. on Monday, the maritime society has also planned two 175th anniversary cruises aboard Amistad — from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Tamulevich said.
In 1839, 53 Africans who were kidnapped from their homeland were transported from Havana, Cuba, on the Spanish ship La Amistad. The Africans revolted, and the ship eventually ended up in Long Island Sound. Jailed in New Haven, the Africans endured a two-year trial before ultimately winning their freedom in 1841.
A 1997 movie by Steven Spielberg tells the story of the Amistad and what transpired in Connecticut, and the replica Amistad built at Mystic Seaport was intended to help to continue to tell that story.
“The story of the Amistad is a great and important story,” Tamulevich said. “On this anniversary, let’s remember what the Amistad represents. The ship is the tangible symbol, but it’s important to remember the story of Amistad and what it means.”
Amistad was last docked in New London in July for Sailfest, but that appearance was preceded by days of uncertainty. Just days before the beginning of the festival, Amistad America Executive Director Hanifa Washington said the ship would not attend Sailfest, partially because of The Day’s coverage of how the organization has spent $8 million in state funding.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged the organization to honor its commitment to the New London festival or jeopardize its nearly $400,000 in annual state funding in the future.
Ultimately, the ship arrived in the Whaling City on the second day of the festival and welcomed more than 3,000 visitors over the course of the weekend.