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One of the fastest ships in history may finally be used again since its last use in 1952 …

Ian Harvey

For enthusiastic maritime historians, this is something incredible! The S.S. United States may finally have a chance to be put to use again on the vast ocean, instead of being scrapped.

In the 1950’s, this ship was considered the world’s fastest. It traveled across the Atlantic and carried royalty and immigrants alike to America. For nearly half a century the wonderful ship had been docked. Over the years it has collected an immense amount of rust and barnacles after the jet travel age had lured the customers away from the luxurious ship.

Liner United States photographed from Portsmouth on return maiden voyage to New York, summer 1952
Liner  SS United States photographed from Portsmouth on return maiden voyage to New York, summer 1952.

Recently, there has been talk that the S.S. United States will sail again. Crystal Cruises, a travel company, had purchased the ship. Preservationists, months earlier, had been considering whether or not to scrap the large vessel, as their funds had slowly dwindled down to nothing and they found it impossible to keep up the beautiful ship any longer.

For Crystal Cruises, it would be the latest addition to their collection of luxury travel offerings. Although it is great that the company has bought the large ship, it is ambitious of them to restore it and put it to use. The company has also begun collecting personal submarines, and also plans for a “cruising in the sky” luxury jumbo jet.

Postcard of SS United States
Postcard of SS United States.

A restoration and makeover for the S.S. United States could cost $700 to $800 million. According to Crystal Cruise’s chief executive, Edie Rodriguez, it is still less money to restore it than build something completely new from scratch. In the terms of agreement, the company will cover about $60,000 a month for the cost of caring for the ship for the nine months a study is being conducted.

Rodriguez added that the company already knows the process isn’t going to be an easy one, but they aren’t looking at the cost of it so much as the historical and iconic value of the ship.

SS United States at sea, 1950s.
The SS United States at sea, 1950’s.

Another challenge the company will have is trying to figure out how to renovate a ship from a bygone era. The ship was last used in 1952, and it still has an area where three orchestras played. It had been also designed to be a fast troop carrier if needed.

The large ship can hold up to 2,000 passengers; it is as long as the Chrysler Building and it still holds the record for the fastest boat to cross the Atlantic. The original record was set on its 1952 inaugural round trip between New York and Europe. The top speed of the ship remained a secret for decades during the Cold War.

Before the company purchased the ship, it was a gift from a Philadelphia philanthropist. That person had bought the ship from the cruise operator NCL, which had been close to scrapping it. After it was given as a gift, the fundraising had been a struggle and just last year avid preservationists were seriously considering scrapping the ship themselves.

SS united states docked at Philadelphia, pa
The SS United States docked at Philadelphia. – By Lowlova – CC BY-SA 3.0

The executive director of the S.S. United States Conservancy, Susan L. Gibbs, said that seeing the ship return to sea had been a dream that she and the group had largely given upon,  due to the technological challenges they were facing.

SS United States in 2012.
The SS United States in 2012.

Thankfully, Crystal Cruises saw the potential in the historic ship. Rodriguez and the company’s chairman, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, said that it would have been a crime if the ship had been melted down.

Crystal Cruises is owned by Genting Hong Kong, whic holds a stake in NCL, the ship’s former owner. The company hopes to turn the ship into an 800-passenger luxury liner that will hopefully travel the world. They are perhaps thinking about occasional trips between New York and Europe for old times’ sake. If that’s the case, they will take the ship on the classic route traveled by several ships, such as R.M.S. Queen Mary, S.S. France, and others from the mid-20th century.

The Queen Mary is now stationary as a hotel in Long Beach, California. The France was renamed the S.S. Norway and has since been scrapped.

The re-modelling of the S.S. United States makeover has twin red, white, and blue stacks and the same number of decks instead of the configuration of more modern cruise liners. The decks will be extended and expanded in order to accommodate rooms with balconies, a new addition to the original design.

Although it is a far stretch for the company, it is still using business logic. If the ship passes inspection, then it could be a potential cost advantage. The ship is one of the more rare piece,s because it was built and flagged in America. This gives the company an advantage since it is easier to service some American routes where foreign-flagged vessels face limitations.

Despite the positives of rebuilding the ship, there are negatives such as the need for some of the old equipment to be swapped out since the last time it was under power was over 40 years ago. Another issue is that some of the areas would contain toxic PCBs, which was common issue in ships during that time period.

Rodriguez explained that the only issues that would cancel the project would be if the E.P.A. would get involved or if they can’t get certain permits.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News