Ten years after gaining title to a Pearl Harbor-surviving tugboat, North Little Rock learned the USS Hoga has been cleared for the journey to its new home.
The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum received confirmation Wednesday that the Pentagon has approved the plan to move the Hoga to North Little Rock once repairs are done to prepare for an initial tow from California's coast, museum Executive Director Greg Zonner said Thursday.
The museum has awaited final approval from the Pentagon since late May to allow alterations to the original 10-year-old contract, which had included towing requirements that had made it difficult -- and more expensive -- to get the Hoga to North Little Rock.
"We're all clear and free to maneuver now," Zonner said. "Now we have to assess what we've got."
The Hoga is a designated National Historic Landmark for its crew's firefighting and rescue efforts during Japan's World War II attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Hoga also pushed the heavily damaged Battleship Nevada away from the sea channel leading into the naval base, which prevented a significant portion of the U.S. fleet from being blocked in the Hawaii harbor.
Once at the Maritime Museum -- it's hoped by Dec. 7, Zonner said -- the Hoga will join the USS Razorback submarine, which was present at the official Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
"From our standpoint, we're really excited," Bob Major, executive director of the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and a museum board member, said Thursday from an international tourism conference in Las Vegas. "People really don't realize the historic significance of having the Hoga here along with the USS Razorback."
Major said the effect on tourism and education and the opportunity to attract national military conventions and reunions would benefit all of central Arkansas by putting "more people into hotel rooms on both sides" of the Arkansas River. The museum is on the North Little Rock riverfront, just east of the Main Street Bridge that connects to Little Rock.
"Having a boat from the first day of the war with Japan and from the very last day of the war with Japan will be quite significant," Major added. "The only other place that has that distinction is Honolulu, so we're in fine company."
The museum also includes a submarine reference library, artifacts from the battleship Arkansas and the nuclear missile cruiser Arkansas, and it houses the Arkansas River Historical Museum. The museum had 21,664 visitors in 2014, according to museum figures, including people from all 50 states and 82 countries.
The Hoga, a tug and former fireboat for Oakland, Calif., has belonged to North Little Rock since the city won a competition with other cities to preserve the boat a decade ago. North Little Rock took possession in 2012, but because of the high cost and logistics of transporting it, the Hoga has remained idle, most recently at Mare Island near Oakland.
The Navy is requiring additional work to fortify the nearly 75-year-old tug for its journey to Arkansas. Those improvements could take three to four weeks, Zonner said.
The altered plan will allow the Hoga to be pulled behind another boat -- what's known as a "wet tow" -- to move it to San Diego from Mare Island. At San Diego, the ship will be placed in a cradle on a cargo ship for a "dry tow" to New Orleans, a 42-47 day trip that will take the tugboat through the Panama Canal.
From New Orleans, the Hoga will be moved up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers to North Little Rock using a "hip tow," where the tug will be tied alongside a towboat. That portion of the trip should take another six or seven days, Zonner said.
The original plan to move the tugboat, with final naval approval coming in 2009, required a dry tow for the entire distance. That limited opportunities to move the tug on a cargo ship that would already be making the trip from California to New Orleans, making the trip more expensive, city officials have previously said.
The original cost was estimated at about $1 million. Zonner has said the towing changes will "drastically" reduce the cost, but the actual expenses haven't yet been determined.
The museum's board of directors has headed a fundraising effort to pay for the Hoga's transport.
"Once it's in San Diego, there are five or six places that have the capability for a lift [onto a cargo ship]," Zonner said. "We'll have to figure out which one we want to use and which one has the best price. Basically, then, it'll be ready to go.
"The goal is to get it here before Dec. 7," if possible, Zonner said, in time for a Pearl Harbor anniversary observance.
Major said there are plans to coordinate a variety of World War II exhibits at different venues in North Little Rock during November and December, starting with "Infamy: December 7, 1941," a photographic exhibit from the World War II Museum in New Orleans to be at the William F. Laman Public Library, 2801 Orange St. The North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau will sponsor the exhibit in conjunction with other planned displays.
"I think the [maritime] museum will be doing something anyway," Major said, even if the Hoga isn't present by that time. "It'll all be to honor Pearl Harbor and the greatest generation and all that. We're working to firm that all up now."
Metro on 08/28/2015
Print Headline: USS Hoga tow plan approved