Saying that the longtime inspector of the Queen Mary had divulged confidential information and had violated the terms of his agreement with the city, Long Beach officials have terminated his contract.

Queen Mary
Last month, the City of Long Beach fired Queen Mary inspector Ed Pribonic, who has had an exclusive contract for monthly ship inspections for more than 25 years. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

The contract with Ed Pribonic, who has performed the ship’s inspections for the city since 1996, ended January 8, 2020, and the city has contracted with the international marine engineering firm Moffat & Nichol to assist with monthly inspections and to put into place a new inspection process, tracking system and reporting system.

Pribonic also failed to provide additional information clarifying concerns raised in his own reports, city officials said.

The termination was the final step in a series of escalating tensions between the city and Pribonic, who said his termination was an attempt by the city to cover up its failures to manage maintenance and repair programs on the historic vessel.

“I’m disappointed that they’ve done that. I think their logic has been to create a diversion [away] from the city’s inability to monitor repairs and expenditures on the ship,” said Pribonic, who has served as a safety engineer for Disneyland, other entertainment venues and for other public entities for decades.

The dispute flared as city officials were moving to “improve and strengthen oversight of the Queen Mary,” according to a recent city staff report, and as the ship’s operator Urban Commons updated its plans for repair, maintenance and improvements of the famed cruise liner.

The city’s increasing discontent with Pribonic surfaced last year, when Moffat & Nichol were brought on to review Pribonic’s monthly reports to the city. The inspector’s public comments about the inspections also drew criticism from the city, which alleged that Pribonic’s statements to media outlets violated the terms of his contract.

“We have always treated the inspection process with a great deal of attention, sensitivity, and respect,” wrote John Keisler, the city’s director of economic development, in an Oct. 23 letter to the inspector. “The healthy working relationship we have established over the last few years depends on an honest, transparent, and collaborative effort. Your recent actions in violation of Sections 9 and 11 of the Agreement, have created a level of tension and distrust between parties — City, operator, and maintenance staff on the Ship.”

In response, Pribonic’s attorney denied the accusations and demanded that the city retract its statements about the inspector.

“Mr. Keisler’s letter deliberately sets out false and defamatory allegations of breach of confidentiality which is damaging to Mr. Pribonic’s reputation and good standing. This cannot be allowed to stand,” wrote Philip Kaufler in a November 12 letter to the city. “Demand is hereby made that Mr. Keisler ‘s claim of breach of confidentiality be retracted and corrected forth with.”

A day later, Keisler wrote to the inspector again, saying that the city’s concerns had not been replied to and that Pribonic had conducted another inspection of the ship despite being told not to do so.

“The monthly inspection reports prepared by Pribonic under the agreement are only made public once those reports have been reviewed and approved by the City as final,” Anthony wrote. “Draft reports are not public documents, and the reports which were obtained by the Long Beach Post and/or other news agencies were not public and were not made so by the City.

“The City rejects the allegations that City staff has engaged in any illegal conduct, and the City will not retract or otherwise further address the comments already made to news agencies. Further, the City hereby terminates the Agreement, effective as of January 8, 2020, as provided in Section 10 of the Agreement.”

In a further statement, Keisler reiterated that the city had not received information requested from Pribonic – an allegation that the inspector also disputed.

“Recent inspection reports submitted by the City’s third-party inspector Mr. Ed Pribonic raised important questions about the condition of the Queen Mary that required additional investigation and clarification. Although the City made multiple requests, Mr. Pribonic, through his legal counsel declined to provide the clarifying information,” Keisler stated.

After reviewing Pribonic’s reports, Moffat & Nichol in November recommended “improvements necessary to professionalize the (inspection) process” that included referencing building codes and standards, dividing the report into separate sections for safety/structural concerns versus hospitality issues, and creating a defect rating, tracking and prioritization system.

“Moffat & Nichol will continue to assist the City with monthly inspections while the new inspection process, tracking and reporting systems are implemented. The City will continue to make the results of these ongoing reports available to the public as they are finalized,” Keisler wrote.