The SS United States, once a majestic ocean liner larger than Titanic and decaying away in Philadelphia for two decades, might have a new lease on life. Crystal Cruises, a luxury travel company, has announced plans to overhaul the ship providing it passes a nine month feasibility study. The estimated cost of the overhaul is $700 million. The gutted and rusty ship is owned by a conservation group, SS United States Conservancy, that made the deal with Crystal Cruises.
The ship was launched in 1951 and constructed entirely in the United States. It was the fastest ocean liner of her day and won the Blue Riband for its crossing speed. It remained in service till 1969 when transatlantic ocean travel had dwindled. After that it fell into different hands. Its fittings and furniture were auctioned off and many plans advanced for its use never materialized. The SS United States Conservancy bought the ship in 2011 hoping to restore it for use in a waterfront exhibition. However the costs associated with that along with ongoing docking fees made this difficult and plans were made to scrap the ship if funding was not found. The contract with Crystal Cruises requires them to pay the docking fees for nine months during the feasibility study.
The old SS United States is facing a most undesirable future. Built in 1952 to be the fastest passenger luxury ship under the U.S. flag (and in fact subsidized by the federal government)she garnered impressive speed records and the Blue Riband in 1952. But transatlantic ship travel dwindled as more people flew rather than take a ship. And so it languished bouncing around from owners and occasional thoughts of using her again for this and that. Most of the fittings and furniture were sold in 1984. Norwegian Cruise Lines did consider using it but never did and ultimately the SS United States Conservancy (a non-profit group)got title to the ship.
But as you can guess, having a ship docked at a working pier (pier 82 in Philadelphia)is not cheap. Ultimately the goal is to move the ship to an area easily accessed by the general public and like the Queen Mary, make it a stationary attraction. The conservancy board of directors has decided, if it cannot raise the funds necessary to sell it to a recycler.
From their official release:
— After much deliberation and consultation, the SS United States Conservancy’s Board of Directors has decided to retain a broker to explore the potential sale of America’s Flagship, the SS United States to a responsible, U.S.-based metals recycler. We have achieved an extraordinary amount of progress in support of the SS United States‘ potential redevelopment in recent months, including detailed plans, financial models, renderings, and engineering approaches with support from a number of major firms. In so many ways, we’ve never been closer to saving America’s Flagship, but we have also never been closer to losing this irreplaceable piece of our history.
The Conservancy has been very clear in its communications to its supporters and the media that the carrying costs for the vessel total more than $60,000 per month. While our fundraising effortshave enabled us to meet those continuing obligations to date, thanks to the steadfast support of donors from across the nation and around the world, the financial burdens imposed bythe ship’s ongoing expenses have become unsustainable. The Conservancy continues to do everything within its power to advance an outcome that protects the vessel, preserves her historical legacy, and secures a viable redevelopment program. As we have announced previously, redevelopment negotiations are ongoing. We have identified two potential locations that can accommodate the ship, and we are continuing complex talks with various entities regarding these sites. These ongoing discussions remain subject to confidentiality agreements signed by both parties.
Despite this progress in our redevelopment negotiations, the timing of additional financial support from our partners may come too late, in the absence of another party willing to support the Conservancy or assume responsibility for the vessel at this time.
If donors or investors step forward by the end of the month who are ready, willing, and able to help the Conservancy, America’s Flagship could still be saved. However, if progress toward a new sales option or an infusion of funds does not occur by October 31, 2015, we will have no choice but to negotiate the sale of the ship to a responsible U.S.-based recycler.
Hopefully enough money will be raised so the ship will be saved. But it looks dicey. Sad to see a great piece of American history heading toward being torn up for scrap.