SS United States – Broken Promisses

The SS United States was built in 1952 for the United States Line. Not only was she a ship of state, she broke the transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage. She till holds the Blue Riband for being the fastest ocean liner. The SS United States  was laid-up in 1996.

In 2003 the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) purchased the SS United States and effectively promised to return her to service as a ‘state-of-the-art’ cruise ship. In 2009 NCL had sold her, without effectively doing anything to the ship in the time that they owned her.

Most industry insiders and commentators, including Bill Miller and John Maxtone Graham, though it most unlikely. Apart from the immense technical difficulties, it would cost many times more to convert an Ocean Liner that is over fifty years old, into a modern cruise ship, than it would to build  a new ship.

At a modest 53,329 gross tonnes it is difficult to imagine that the ‘Big U’ could accommodate the type of facilities and trypes of staterooms  that modern cruise passengers expect as standard.  After all, such a ship would need to appeal to the cruising masses and not just liner buffs. The existing internal space and low superstructure would probably not be sufficient for balcony cabins, big  atrium’s and multiple dining rooms etc. that modern passengers expect as standard.  However, extra decks could of course be added, but would they  destroy her ‘classic’ profile.

(Above: The SS United States docked in Philadelphia: Image courtsey of wikipedia, photographer unknown)

It has been  alleged that NCL were never interested in operating an historic ship, they wanted the SS United States ‘America’ hull, which would allow her to operate unique itineraries and make her effectively immune from the ‘Jones Act’.  (In short non-American built ships cannot visit multiple US ports, such as inter-Island cruises in Hawaii etc.)

In a July 31, 2004 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer NCL’s then CEO, Colin Veitch, says he believes the SS United States will be successful sailing on a east coast to west coast cruise route via the Panama Canal.

Any possible renovation of the SS United States was linked to the success of their NCLA (Norwegian Cruise Line America) project, although the original press release (below) did not initially suggest this. However NCLA partially failed.  NCLA originally had three US-Flagged ship operating in Hawaiian waters, but now are down to just one, ‘Pride of America’. Personally I think the chances of the SS United States ever being returned to service were very small but now they have dropped to zero.

NCL are of course not a charity with a mission of saving aging Ocean Liners, they are a a business. Never the less, here is the original NCL press release which in my opinion was over optimistic and in effect gave Liner fans false hope:

Official 2003 Press Release – Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) announced on April 14, 2003 that it has purchased the S/S United States, one of the country’s most venerable ships built in the glory days of trans-Atlantic sea travel. NCL intends to convert the vessel to a state-of-the art, modern cruise ship and to add her to NCL’s planned US flagged fleet. A relaunched S/S United States will add more than 1,000 American maritime jobs and 5,000 shoreside jobs to the 3,000 maritime jobs and 17,000 shoreside jobs that NCL’s US flag initiative with Project America is predicted to generate.

Widely considered to be the greatest superliner ever built in this country, the S/S United States was engineered to be faster, safer and more technologically advanced than anything else afloat when she was christened. To this day, her Atlantic crossing record has never been matched and she remains the holder of the fabled Blue Riband.

Knowing that S/S United States faced an uncertain future, NCL moved swiftly to purchase the vessel. NCL is now evaluating options for use of the ship under US flag and determining the extent of renovations needed to convert her to a state-of-the-art, modern cruise ship that will appeal to today’s vacationer. The ship is expected to offer mainland US itineraries where cruise products are not currently available. The refurbishment of the hull and superstructure will be done at USshipyards with the outfitting completed overseas. NCL is no stranger to such conversions, having converted the fabled North Atlanticliner the S/S France into cruising’s first Caribbeanmegaship, S/S Norway.

“When we discovered this American icon was in jeopardy, we saw a unique opportunity and acted immediately. The ship is a classic, she was built in Americaand is eligible to operate in domestic service under existing law and regulation,” said Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO. “The S/S United States would be a phenomenal addition to our US flag operation down the road. We remain focused on completing Project America and successfully introducing our innovative US flag cruise ships in Hawaii, but we will now organize a project team to work with US yards, naval engineers and architects to develop plans for what should be the fourth vessel in our US flagged fleet.”


The SS United States Libary on board \'Norwegian Jade\'.

Above: The ‘SS United States’ Library on board the Norwegian Jade, complete with ship model. Quite ironic as they sold the SS United States in 2009.

2016 – STOP PRESS! Will Crystal Cruises save the SS United States: HERE



7 Responses to “SS United States – Broken Promisses”

  1. johnniewalker Says:

    I agree with Philip. Restore it to its orginal state as a long term working museum to future generations. She is a classic of the Atlantic Greyhounds, a cool design with great proportions.

  2. Philip Matzigkeit Says:

    In 1956 my family sailed New York to Cape Town on the African Enterprise. On subsequent voyages we crisscrossed the Atlantic on the SS United States, the final voyage of France’s “Liberte,” and twice on The New Amsterdam. This was travel at its best. I have also spent the night on the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach. Though several of these shells remain, the heart and soul and certainly the glamor of these marine super stars are gone. Reagan campaigned to have the Statue of Liberty restored. I vote to restore the SS United States.

  3. jerry williams Says:

    Are u the jim davis that was in the gravesend sea school 1954 from Hackney London ?

  4. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Hi Jim, I too stayed on her a few years ago. I loved the experience, but she is a faded star. ALL hotel ships struggle to make money. I fear for the QE2.

  5. Jim Davis Says:

    I recently stayed on the old Queen at Long Beach and when I was at sea in the Merchant Navy, one ship that I was on– Dalhanna, had an entry in the bridge log of calling up the Queen Mary when she was on her last voyage from the UK
    The ship is very faded now and not looked after at all
    Even the so called “4 star and 5 star” restaurants on board are awful
    30 years ago she was in fine condition, now she’s a mess!!

  6. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Jim, if you do a ‘google’ search on the SS United states you will find several US bodies trying to save her. They have been for a number of years now. However old ships can rarely generate a profit, so investors are not normally interested.

    Even the ‘Queen Mary’ Hotel, Long Beach USA, struggles with maintenance issues and profitability. The QE2’s future looks uncertain too.

    It’s cheaper to build a new ship than renovate a very old one for returning to service. It’s probably also cheaper to build a purpose built hotel and maintain it, than renovate a ship. No one wants old ship, no matter how historic, except the scrappers. It’s very sad.

  7. jim norton Says:

    i have always loved this ship and i am distressed to hear of it being possibly sold for scrap this would be a national travesty let me know if there is a fund we can contribute to to buy and presereve this beauty thanx

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