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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


United States Line

SS United States

Rating: N/A
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Operator: United States Line
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1952
Length / Tonnage: 990 / 53,329
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 972 / 1,928
Officers / Crew: American / American
Operating Area: Transatlantic
Overview: she was built for United States Line with the help of a US government subsidy. In addition to being a cruise ship, she was to be easily convertible into a troopship with the ability to carry 14,000 men over 10,000 miles without refueling. She was designed by the noted marine architect, William Francis Gibbs and her maiden voyage began on July 3, 1952.

When launched very little was known about her true speed and years later it was revealed that she achieved a top speed of over 38 knots during her trials. Her first passage was made in 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes from Ambrose Lighthouse to Bishops Rock. This easily beat the Queen Mary's previous Eastbound record by about 10 hours.

She also broke the Westbound record with a crossing of 3 days, 19 hours and 20 minutes, an average speed of over 34 knots. In November of 1952 she was awarded the Hales Trophy which is traditionally given to the fastest ship afloat and represents the fabled Blue Riband. During her early years she was very popular, but with the advent of jet aircraft during the late 1960's she began to lose passengers and by 1969 the combination of labor problems and lack of passengers forced her owners to withdraw her from service and send her home to Newport News to await her fate.

In 1992 she was towed across the Atlantic to Turkey to have her interiors gutted and asbestos removed. In 1996 she was brought back to the US and docked in Philadelphia where she now holds the distinction of being "the largest abandoned vehicle in the city".

Her most recent owner, Edward A. Cantor, a real-estate developer in New Jersey and Palm Beach Florida, died in 2002 and the fate of this famous ship is unlcear. Despite numerous grass-roots attempts to return the ship to service or preserve her as a museum the funds to make either project happen have yet to materialize.

4.14.2003 Update - In a move that is bound to warm the hearts of ocean liner aficionados everywhere and cause the investment community to scratch it's collective head, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) made the shocking announcement today 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 also announced that it had purchased the 1951-built S/S Independence which had been operated by American Hawaiian Cruises previously.

The fact that NCL appears willing to attempt to return the S/S United States to service caught even the most optimistic United States watchers by surprise. According to NCL, plans call for the now gutted shell to be converted into 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 is expected to 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.

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 US shipyards with the outfitting completed overseas. NCL is no stranger to such conversions, having converted the fabled North Atlantic liner the S/S France into cruising's first Caribbean megaship, 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 America and 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 announcement comes on the heels of NCL's recent commitment to begin a US flag operation in Hawaii. A new federal law will allow NCL to complete the stalled Project America as a US flagged and US manned operation for inter-island Hawaii cruise service. NCL purchased the partially completed first Project America ship and substantial materials and related components for the second Project America ship from Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (NGSS) in September 2002. The legislative initiative was designed to recover the US investment in Project America, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax receipts, and creating more than 20,000 US jobs.

NCL also announced today the purchase of another classic, American-built ship, the S/S Independence, which until October 2001 was sailing in the Hawaii trade but which was a victim of its owner's post-September 11th bankruptcy. NCL purchased the vessel at federal auction from the US Maritime Administration saving her from almost certain scrapping. The potential addition of the S/S Independence as a fifth vessel in NCL's US flag operation is being evaluated.

While we are happy to hear that both ships will avoid the scrap yard for now, it remains to be seen whether NCL will actually be able to refurbish and return two 50 year-old ships to service. Hopefully, they have done their homework and understand what they are getting into, but the conversion of the United States into a modern cruise ship will be a much bigger job than the NCL's 1980 conversion of the France into the Norway. More importantly, it will be interesting to see if NCL can do it profitably, especially when the company is required to operate and staff the ships with more expense American crews.

At this time, it is unclear where NCL plans to position the ships if they ever do return to service. While there has been speculation that they would be added to the fleet of NCL ships serving the Hawaiian islands, NCL already has two, and possibly three, ships slated for that area and it is unlikely that the Hawaiian market is large enough to support more than two dedicated ships. In their press release, NCL refers to United States possibly becoming the "fourth vessel in our US flagged fleet".

Given that US-flagged ships are exempt from the Passenger Vessel Services Act - which prohibits foreign-built ships from operating between U.S. ports without making a stop at a foreign port prior to the completion of their round-trip cruise - NCL may be considering deploying the United States and or Independence between other US ports as part of their "Homeland Cruising" initiative.

Stay tuned, we will keep you posted as things develop.

For more information about the United States, visit this site . .

To learn more about the United States, check out one of these books from Amazon.com:

SS United States : The Story of America's Greatest Ocean Liner

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