SS United States Conservancy Fears Ship's Demolition
By Eric Wills | Online Only | Mar. 16, 2010
The S.S. United States, the grand and stylish ocean liner that epitomized American power in the aftermath of World War II, now languishes dockside on the Delaware River, just south of downtown Philadelphia. The paint is peeling from the ship's massive red, white, and blue funnels, and she's no longer seaworthy. But it's still possible to catch a glimpse of her from Interstate 95, or from the Ikea parking lot across the way, and imagine how awe-inspiring she must have seemed to her first passengers during her maiden voyage in 1952, when she set a still-standing transatlantic speed record from England to New York.
Now she may vanish forever. According to the S.S. United States Conservancy, a nonprofit group, the ship's owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, a unit of Genting Hong Kong, is currently collecting bids from ship scrappers.
"We are in a race against time," says Susan Gibbs, the president of the conservancy and granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the ship's designer. The conservancy has embarked on a last-minute fundraising campaign in hopes of purchasing the liner or finding a buyer interested in preserving her. "She was an unparalleled engineering and design accomplishment and epitomizes post-war American pride and technological accomplishment," Gibbs says. "It would be such a tragedy to scrap her."
Norwegian Cruise Line bought the SS United States in 2003, intending to put her back into service. When that plan never materialized, the company offered her up for sale in early 2009. It costs about $700,000 per year to maintain and berth the ship, the company said in a statement earlier this month. "The vessel continues to be listed with a ship broker who is focusing on a sale to a U.S. entity," according to the Mar. 3 statement.
According to Gibbs, estimated figures for the ship's sale price have fallen dramatically, based on informal conversations between the conservancy and Norwegian Cruise Line. In part, Gibbs says, that's because scrap prices have nosedived. But she also hopes that the company is willing to entertain lower offers in hopes of finding a preservation-minded buyer: "I would like to think that Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent corporation would prefer to do the right thing, would not want to be associated with the scrapping of a national icon."
The conservancy has long worked on plans to adapt the liner as a multi-use attraction, with hotel, retail, and convention space, as well a maritime museum that would highlight the ship's historical importance. "We have been limited in our ability to get those plans going because we haven't held title to the ship," Gibbs says. "Our hope is that at the 11th hour we can raise enough money to stay the execution and keep moving toward this repurposed vision for the ship."
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