Treaty of Nanking

Shanghai makes bold move to poach HK's Maritime Museum

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am

A large part of the city's maritime heritage is in danger of being lost to a museum in Shanghai.

Maritime Museum director Stephen Davies said the Shanghai city government had made an audacious bid to take the collection from its 500 sq metre home at Stanley's historic Murray House to its own facility.

Shanghai's National Maritime Museum is expected to open in September, 2009. The Maritime Museum's lease at Murray House expires in August 2010.

The Shanghai Port Administration Bureau, which is responsible for the project, admitted this year it was short of exhibits.

Mr Davies said the Murray House venue was too small for the growing collection, and its trust estimates it would need between HK$120 million and HK$150 million for a new building. It is also in desperate need of a wealthy benefactor to make up the HK$3.5 million gap between income and expenditure.

Despite commercial seafaring being the primary reason for the city's success, government support is unavailable because it is a private museum. It pays rent at the full commercial rate.

Authorities from the mainland's commercial centre were impressed by the collection when they visited, Mr Davies said. 'They have certainly made that overture [to take over the collection] and we haven't said no because we have a responsibility to look after the collection,' he said.

'It would be heartening to have someone with infinite pockets. It would be great to have a sugar daddy come and say 'Wow, this is terrific, I'll give you HK$400 million and get on with it', but that has not happened.'

The Shanghai museum is being built in the Luchaogang port area and is seen by authorities as a showpiece in the city's plans to turn itself into the world's leading shipping centre.

Mr Davies said the Shanghai museum might display the Hong Kong collection as a separate entity within its 40,000 sq metre museum.

'China is back on the maritime scene and is again interested in its own maritime history,' he said. 'We get many visitors from the mainland who come to see how we have managed to do what we do with so little money.'

The Maritime Museum opened in 2005 with HK$35 million funding drawn from the shipping industry. About 600 items from the city's rich maritime history are on display and a further 2,000 are in storage.

Mr Davies said the industry had hoped the government would take the museum under its wing once it saw the success of the model and realised the sector was prepared to contribute significant funds.

'We have already tapped the shipping industry for a lot of money - shipping is on a roll and they have been very generous,' Mr Davies said.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said there was no policy on funding private museums. 'We have to consider each case on its own merits,' he said.

He would not reveal whether it was considering funding the maritime museum.

The government wants to reform the management of museums by allowing them to seek sponsorship and patronage, while operating with an independent accounting system and retaining revenue.

But Mr Davies said these reforms had been dragging on for years and it could be a decade before the government would even consider helping the maritime museum.

'It will be half a generation before a proposal for a reform becomes a reform, but in half a generation we will be dead,' he said.




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