The state Bond Commission is scheduled to approve $620,000 in borrowing so that a newly formed nonprofit can purchase the Amistad replica out of receivership and make the necessary repairs.
The new nonprofit, Discovering Amistad, will purchase the ship for $315,000 and make about $305,000 in repairs to the vessel so it can maintain its Coast Guard certification. That’s in addition to the $342,000 it will receive in each of the next two fiscal years from the state budget for its operation.
State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who first sounded the alarm bells over the accounting practices of Amistad America, its previous owner, said it’s an important educational tool and an appropriate use of state bonding. However, she wants to make sure the small businesses the former nonprofit owner failed to pay “get paid what they are owed.”
Attorney Katharine Sachs of New Haven told The Day of New London last week that she regrets the $315,000 sale price won’t cover the $2.2 million in debt Amistad America still owes to small businesses and individuals.
Urban said Friday that she hopes the new nonprofit — formed with the help of Sachs and Attorney General George Jepsen — will provide a “strong framework for accountability going forward.”
A 2012 audit of Amistad America found the organization lost its tax-exempt status in 2011 because it did not file tax returns with the federal government. The same audit found the endowment had a deficiency of about $49,000.
Discovering Amistad was formed in July. According to court documents its incorporators “are experienced leaders in Connecticut nonprofit governance and philanthropy.” The incorporators will serve as initial directors and they will interview and recruit additional directors.
The nonprofit will oversee the repair of the reproduction 19th-century Spanish Baltimore Clipper. The ship, which was built in 2000, was constructed to help tell the story of a group of Africans who were kidnapped into slavery but later revolted and took over the ship in 1839. The schooner was captured off Montauk, N.Y. and brought to New London. The slaves were taken to New Haven, where they were held for trial and eventually set free.
Sachs investigated auctioning off the ship, but a maritime appraiser she hired to estimate the value of the ship warned against a public auction.
“The Quinnipiack, a landmark New Haven tall ship, sold early this year for $50,000,” court documents state. “The appraiser notes that these below-market sales and the fact that there are a number of tall ships on the market now shows the softness of the present market for vessels such as the Amistad.”
Once the state pays the court $315,000 to purchase the ship for Discovering Amistad, the court will convene the creditors in October to decide how the proceeds will be distributed.
The state is also a creditor and could receive priority among all creditors, providing reimbursement for some of the expense, Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the Office of Policy and Management, said Friday.
“In the near future the plan is to keep the Amistad on land in order to reduce operating costs and to use it for educational programs aimed at K-12 students,” Casa said. “But the future of the Amistad will be determined by Discovery Amistad Inc., and the ship may return to the seas when finances and other opportunities permit.”
It’s currently located in Mystic Seaport where it will undergo repairs for a leak.
“The Amistad can help educate generations of Connecticut residents about the evils of slavery and what it means, in a tangible way that even children can understand,” Casa added. “For people outside of Connecticut it is also a powerful symbol of the liberties and human dignity that our state values.”