SS United States Needs Rescue

| March 8, 2010

This U.S.-built ocean liner that has held the commercial passenger Atlantic crossing speed record since 1952 needs urgent help!

The SS United States is currently owned by NCL, and the company says they will sell it to the highest bidder at the end of the month. There is a group of people who want to save this highly historic ship and all they need is $1.5 million. Time is running out, however! Please read the background below for more information, or go startight to the conservancy web site here: SS United States Conservancy.

The S.S. United States, one of the few modern ocean liners ever built by the United States government to navy specs, was a ground-breaking and record-setting ship project never matched in the world of ocean liners. The novel technology employed on the cruise ship was so successful that it captured and has retained the most prized award for ships ever, the Blue Riband, awarded for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic ocean by a passenger vessel. She won the award on her maiden voyage in 1952 and it has not been broken by any commercial passenger vessel yet.

The United States was built in Newport News, Virginia as a joint venture between the U.S. Government and the United States Lines. The government was inspired to build her after witnessing the efficiency of the British liners in carrying U.S. troops to the war in Europe. She cost $78,000,000 of which the US underwrote $50 million. 17 years after setting the still unsurpassed speed record for a commercial passenger vessel, the ship was retired in 1969 after air travel made ocean liners all but obsolete.

The United States has been moored in Philadelphia since 1996, which is fitting since that is where her original designer lived. She is today owned by Star Cruises of Malaysia, acqquired when Star was the majority shareholder of Norwegian Cruise Lines beginning in 2000. NCL entered into a complicated deal with the U.S. Government in 2003 taking this ship along with a hull also under construction at Newport News which was going to become the first and only new cruise ship ever built in the United States (for American Hawaii Lines which went bankrupt mid-project).

Star Cruises has now put the S.S. United States up for sale, and a new foundation started by certain Philadelphia citizens is hoping to save the vessel from the scrap yards of India. NCL went through several feasibility studies to make the ship an eligible cruise ship for NCL-America Hawaii cruises, but the costs of refitting her to modern specs were too high. Eventually Star Cruises became the sole owner although NCL still possesses 100 boxes of documentation on the vessel.

But even more important than the actual vessel is the place in history she holds. Designed by Philadelphian William Francis Gibbs, his goal was to bring the Blue Riband home after years of British possession. On its maiden voyage, the United States captured the Blue Riband from the Queen Mary by sailing at 36 knots, or 41 m.p.h. This is far faster than any cruise ship can sail today, including the specially built modern ocean liner Queen Mary 2 (1996) which has a top speed of about 31 knots. The average cruise ship today tops out at 24 knots or less.

The United States is 990-feet long (59,000-tons, 105-foot Panamax beam), but she is low to the water with only two full decks above her very tall hull. The stacks only reach a heigh of twelve stories. Inside she was one of the first structures ever to use aluminum extensively in place of wood. The idea was to make her as light and fireproof as possible and there were no wooden framings, accessories or decorations. They used glass, metal and spun glass fiber instead. The specs even called for a grand piano to be made of aluminum, but it didn't have right tone. They used a fire resistant wood which was only accepted after a demonstration where gasoline was poured on the piano and set on fire and the wood failed to burn.

To be clear, the United States Blue Riband voyage was a full ship on a commercial crossing, the criteria for which the Blue Riband was created. Other vessels have beat her crossing speed, but they were not commercial passenger vessels, and they were traveling at bare weight.

A Philadelphia-based group called the SS United States Conservancy believes the ship deserves to survive, kicking off a campaign to save her Aug 26, 2009, with a free screening of a 2008 Chicago Public Television documentary called SS United States: Lady in Waiting at the Independence Seaport Museum. Another documentary, The Big U: The Story of the SS United States, is also soon to be released.

H.F. Lenfest, a Philadelphia media entrepreneur and philanthropist, just pledged a matching grant of $300,000 to help the United States Conservancy purchase the liner from Star Cruises. Although much of the interior was gutted during a process to remove all asbestos from her, much of her original furniture is still in existence in Windmill Point, a restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina.

More information on the SS United States Conservancy here.

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