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.”
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