SS United States Salvaged from the Scrapyard?

July 1, 2010
SS-United-States-Cruise-Ship (3:25 p.m. EDT) -- A dramatic turn of events has saved the SS United States from what seemed like a one-way sailing to the scrapyard -- for now.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the SS United States Conservancy, a group dedicated to the preservation of the beloved ocean liner, will tonight announce plans to buy the SS United States for $3 million. The iconic American vessel, which is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, has been slowly oxidizing at a Philadelphia dock since 1996.

The ship seems to have been saved in the eleventh hour by Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. Gerry Lenfest, who will contribute up to $5.8 million to fund the purchase and associated costs. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Lenfest will be covering the $60,000-a-month docking fees for the next 20 months, while the conservancy develops a restoration plan -- which may be to transform the vessel into a waterfront hotel or multi-use development, according to the Journal. The deal with NCL to buy the ship must be finalized by February.

Despite the good news, the project still faces a number of obstacles. The WSJ report says that "the proposed sale still must satisfy Environmental Protection Agency concerns related to toxins aboard the nearly 60-year-old steamship." And no one has put a price tag on how much it will cost to refurbish the ship, which has been out of service since 1969.

With no previous takers to buy the ship, NCL parent company Genting Hong Kong began taking bids from scrappers earlier this year. According to the Journal, NCL actually declined a $5.9 million bid from a scrapping company. The line was unavailable to comment on why it accepted a significantly lower offer from the SS United States Conservancy.

Built in 1952, the construction of the ship was heavily subsidized by the U.S. government, which wanted the option to use the Big U, as it's known to fans, as a military transport vessel when it wasn't sailing transatlantic pleasure cruises for United States Lines. An undeniable speed demon, the SS United States still holds the westbound transatlantic speed record, crossing the pond in some 3 days and 10 hours on its maiden voyage in 1952. Its top speed was believed to be in excess of 36 knots (over 40 miles per hour). Onboard, the ship reflected the golden age of ocean liners -- it was divided into three distinct "classes" -- first, cabin and tourist -- each with their own dining rooms and lounges. Passengers -- including movie stars (John Wayne), heads of state (Harry Truman) and immigrants -- could mix in the gymnasium and pool.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor

Photo is courtesy of Big Ship Films, LLC

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