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Amistad undergoes repairs, awaits sale to newly formed nonprofit

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New London — State Attorney General George Jepsen has proposed selling the tall ship Amistad for $315,000 to a newly formed nonprofit group called Discovering Amistad Inc., which plans to revise the mission of the replica schooner and make it less reliant on public funding.

Docked at Custom House Pier since April, the ship recently developed a leak in its hull that was patched last week by a diver, but the issue will prevent the Amistad from making a planned trip to New Haven this fall.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina, who is considering the proposed sale of the Amistad, approved the cancellation of the New Haven trip and authorized the ship's court-appointed receiver, attorney Katherine B. Sacks, to spend up to $4,000 for additional electrical repairs.

Jepsen has proposed a directed sale of the schooner from Amistad America, which incurred $2.2 million in debt while operating the state-subsidized ship, to Discovering Amistad, the newly formed corporation that grew out of an advisory committee appointed to come up with viable and sustainable uses for the vessel.

"This is a group of people with experience both in the maritime world, the tall ship world and the nonprofit world," said Sacks.

Discovering Amistad's four incorporaters, or members, to date, include Len Miller of Essex, who founded Soundwaters, a Stamford-based educational nonprofit that offers educational programs about Long Island Sound aboard an 80-foot schooner and from a land-based classroom.

Miller, a certified public accountant, is a close friend of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who served as the treasurer of Malloy's campaign committees. He could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

Other members are Karen King of New Haven, who is a community affairs associate at Yale University; Alexis H. Smith, the deputy director of New Haven Legal Assistance; and Robert King of Stamford, an investor involved in community boards and activities.

Sacks obtained the $315,000 appraisal for Amistad from Capt. Paul C. Haley, a certified marine surveyor from Orleans, Mass., who wrote in an Aug. 9 report that the Amistad was "exceptionally well built with good materials," but that the market for passenger schooners is not good.

Haley had initially indicated the fair market value was $550,000, but revised the appraisal after discovering that four tall ships had been offered for sale over the past two years at prices between $750,000 and $925,000 but only one of them, the schooner Nathaniel Bowditch, had been sold, for $250,000, according to court documents.

Amistad is expected to stay in New London — where it has been open to the public during waterfront festivals this summer — until late October, when it will be taken to Mystic Seaport for a winter layup and overhaul. 

Built at the Seaport in 2000, the schooner replicates a ship that was commandeered by its African captives off the Cuban coast in 1839. Captured off Montauk, N.Y., the ship was brought to New London and the captives taken to New Haven, where they were held for trial and eventually set free.  

The General Assembly approved $342,000 in each of the next two years in funding for the Amistad. State funds are expected to be used to buy the ship, and the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay Amistad America's creditors.

Rather than sell the ship at auction to the highest bidder, the attorney general proposes selling it at fair market value so that creditors can be paid and the educational mission of the ship can be preserved.

With the court's oversight, creditors would be paid in a manner similar to a bankruptcy case, according to Sacks.

The Amistad is referred to in court documents as "the state's flagship and tall ship ambassador."

The advisory committee has recommended the new operators provide year-round land-based programming in schools and in partnership with local organizations, including the Old State House in Hartford, the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London, the New Haven Museum and Mystic Seaport.

"A central land-based educational mission will serve and benefit more members of Connecticut's public, and active sailing of the ship should be utilized carefully in the future to complement the educational mission, with great attention given to the control of cost and risk," says a summary of the advisory committee recommendations.

In its certificate of incorporation, Discovering Amistad defines its mission as "enable children and adults in Connecticut and the region to discover the story of the Amistad and its impact on Connecticut and the nation; and to provide learning opportunities for children and adults to discover the relevance of the history of the Amistad to today's world."

It is unclear where the Amistad would be homeported.

"The intention is to serve the people of the state as much as possible by being present in as many Connecticut ports that can accommodate the ship's (10 1/2 foot) draft," said Sacks.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @KFLORIN

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