Historic cruise ship to be given a new life

Historic cruise shipIt was and still is the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the U.S. The 53,330 ton SS United States that ran transatlantic sailings until 1969, setting speed records that have still not been broken today. Still, the ships fate seemed doomed with her next stop being the scrap yard.

Built from 1950-52, the SS United States operated uninterrupted transatlantic passenger service until 1969. But the ship was withdrawn from service and bounced around from one idea to another. At one point there was talk of making it into a floating time share-like ship. Later it was stripped of its fittings that that would become furniture in a North Carolina restaurant. Most recently the ship was slated to become part of Norwegian Cruise Lines American-flagged Hawaii fleet.

The SS United States Conservancy announced Tuesday it has purchased the legendary ocean liner, berthed in Philadelphia since 1996, from Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company for $3 million and hopes to restore the ship to its original glory in an extreme makeover the likes of which has never been seen.

They have a long way to go though.

The annual costs of upkeep tops $800,000, the ship is full of toxic PCB’s, fire-resistant chemicals once commonly used in paint which must be removed, and the refitting price tag is high at $200 million.

“While we’ve already been talking with a number of investors, municipal officials and developers, we can take these conservations to the next level because we now hold title to the vessel,” said Susan Gibbs, conservancy board president and the granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the ship’s Philadelphia-born designer. “Our doors are open and we’re ready for business.”

Why bother?

This is a ship that carried President John F. Kennedy and actress Grace Kelly. Prince Rainier of Monaco, England’s King Edward VIII and former Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton were on board. This is a piece of history that once gone, we will never get back. Today’s cruise ships are built in a totally different manner in foreign shipyards. This one, the one that still holds the transatlantic speed record, was built in America. How many things can you say that about these days?

While private backers are being sought to fund the enterprise, donations are being accepted via the Conservatory’s website.

Flickr photo by Mihai Bjorn