The USS Olympia, a one-of-a-kind steel cruiser from the Spanish-American War, needs $2 million to $5 million in immediate repairs to stabilize it and an additional $10 million to $20 million for dry dock and restoration. The Independence Seaport Museum says it's looking for someone to take ownership of the National Historic Landmark.
The museum posted a transfer application Monday on its website. It's looking for a state, city or charitable organization that will assume ownership of the Olympia. Individuals and for-profit groups are not eligible to apply.
The museum is holding a summit at the end of March for potential buyers, and museum officials are hoping to have the transfer wrapped up by November 2012. They said they cannot afford the repairs and that the Olympia, purportedly the world's oldest steel warship still afloat, will be scrapped or scuttled if a new owner is not found.
The 344-foot-long protected cruiser ideally should have been dry-docked every 20 years for maintenance, but it has not been out of the water since 1945 and its hull has extensive damage at the water line. Its caretakers have said that without major repairs, the Olympia could sink at its moorings on the Delaware River.
Since taking stewardship of the floating museum from a cash-strapped nonprofit in 1996, the Independence Seaport Museum has spent $5.5 million on repairs, inspections and maintenance. About 90,000 people visit the 5,500-ton ship every year.
From Olympia's bridge on May 1, 1898, during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines, Commodore George Dewey uttered the famous command: "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley." The Spanish fleet was decimated, making Dewey and the Olympia national heroes.
The ship later was active in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Mediterranean, served as a Naval Academy training vessel, and took part in the 1918 Allied landing at Murmansk during the Russian Civil War.
Its final mission was bringing home the body of World War I's Unknown Soldier from France in 1921.
Independence Seaport Museum: http://www.phillyseaport.org