Britain Detains ‘Noah’s Ark,’ Doubting It Can Handle the Sea
The British maritime authorities want to see paperwork proving that the ark, a floating museum of Bible exhibits, is seaworthy before it can be towed from Ipswich, England, back to the Netherlands.,
When God flooded the Earth as punishment for man’s sins, the story goes, a devoted follower named Noah built an ark, preserving mankind by saving his family and the world’s animals from the water.
A modern version of the ark is facing a different challenge: British bureaucracy.
A Dutch television and theater producer named Aad Peters is facing a British government demand that he prove that his 21,528-square-foot ark is fit to travel at sea.
The ark, a floating museum of Bible-themed exhibits, has no engine. It was built on a steel barge and needs to be towed wherever it goes. According to its website, it made stops in Denmark, Germany and Norway before arriving in Ipswich, in eastern England, in October 2019. It welcomed visitors aboard until March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Mr. Peters declined to comment. In a statement, the museum said Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency impounded the ark in November 2019, even as it remained open to the public, because it lacked two certifications, a load line certificate and an antifouling certificate. The first verifies a vessel’s seaworthiness, and the second affirms that it does not have “a coating, paint, surface treatment, surface or device” that can leach into the water and kill barnacles and other sea life, according to the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency.
The museum said that because the ark is a “noncertified floating object,” there is no “requirement for the vessel to comply with international regulation.”
The British maritime authorities disagree, and the resulting stalemate, as reported by The Ipswich Star, is costing Mr. Peters and his museum real money.
The port of Ipswich, which has asked that the ark be moved to free up space at the waterfront, had fined the museum more than 12,000 pounds, or nearly $17,000, as of January, and it has assessed a daily fine of GBP500, or about $700, since April 1, The Star reported. The port “has indicated that they will substantially increase” the daily fines if the ark doesn’t leave, the museum said.
The museum insists it is ready to go, saying that arrangements have been made to have the ark towed back to the Netherlands once those plans are approved by the British authorities.
According to the museum, Mr. Peters was not required to register the ark in the Netherlands because it is not a boat. But because he did not register it, the museum said, British maritime officials cannot request an exemption from the Dutch government to allow the ark to travel home.
“We are aware of the situation and are in discussions with relevant agencies in the U.K. and the Netherlands,” the Department for Transport said in a statement. “Safety remains the top priority.”
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency did not respond to requests for comment.
The Telegraph reported that the British agencies were working with the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands to find a solution.
Mr. Peters bought the ark in 2010 for $3 million. It is one of two reconstructions that a Dutch carpenter, Johan Huibers, built over seven years, based on biblical descriptions.
Mr. Peters told Vice that he used to carry live animals on board, but they “caused too many problems.” Now the museum uses wooden figurines to illustrate its Bible stories.
The dispute with the British authorities is not the first time that the ark has made international headlines for the wrong reasons. In 2016, as it was being towed in the Port of Oslo, the ark crashed into a Norwegian Coast Guard patrol boat, leaving a large hole in the ark and giving rise to Twitter jokes. No one was hurt.
In the interview with Vice — conducted after the ark was towed to Bergen, Norway, in 2015 — Mr. Peters said the ark can’t handle waves taller than about six feet.
When asked if it could survive a flood similar to the one that tested Noah, Mr. Peters said: “Sadly, no. I don’t like to use the word ‘miracle,’ but it is a miracle that we got to Norway.”