SS United States… what now?

Earlier this year Crystal Cruises announced it would save the SS United States, “America’s Flagship”, and embark on the enormous undertaking of bringing the ship into compliance with the latest standards, and returning her to oceangoing service.

During a press conference Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez said: “The prospect of revitalizing the SS United States and reestablishing her as ‘America’s Flagship’ once again is a thrilling one. It will be a very challenging undertaking, but we are determined to apply the dedication and innovation that has always been the ship’s hallmark.”

Rodriguez continued: “It is truly a privilege for the world’s most awarded luxury cruise line to be entrusted with the opportunity of restoring a ship that served as a symbol of patriotism and maritime supremacy and bring her into the modern day, while also giving guests a taste of a bygone era of luxury travel.”

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The new United States by Crystal Cruises ©CrystalCruises

Also at the press conference Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs said: “Crystal’s ambitious vision for the SS United States will ensure our nation’s flagship is once again a global ambassador for the highest standards of American innovation, quality and design. We are thrilled that the SS United States is now poised to make a triumphant return to sea and that the ship’s historical legacy will continue to intrigue and inspire a new generation.”

Crystal Cruises planned to have the modern United States by Crystal Cruises transformed into an 800-guest-capacity vessel, featuring 400 luxurious suites measuring about 350 square feet with dining, entertainment, spa and other luxury guest amenities that are true to the ship’s storied history. While some of the ship’s original features would be retained, new engines and sophisticated marine technology was to be installed to maintain her title as the fastest cruise vessel in the world.

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The new United States by Crystal Cruises ©CrystalCruises

Unfortunately Crystal Cruises today announced that, after a $1 million feasibility study over the past six months,  “while the SS United States is structurally sound, the technical and commercial challenges associated with returning the historic liner to service as a modern cruise ship have unfortunately proven insurmountable.”

“Over the past six months, Crystal has conducted an extensive feasibility study to restore ‘America’s Flagship’ to oceangoing service. Unfortunately, the hurdles that would face us when trying to bring a 65-year-old vessel up to modern safety, design and international regulatory compliance have proven just too great to clear in both a technically and commercially responsible manner,” said Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez.

“Our company has great affection for this historic and irreplaceable vessel, and we will be making a $350,000 donation which will help support the Conservancy preserve the vessel through the remainder of the year,” said Rodriguez. “We firmly believe the SS United States is an American treasure and deserves to be preserved and redeveloped as a stationary destination for future generations to experience and enjoy.”

Led by retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Tim Sullivan, Crystal’s team of maritime experts and engineers conducted numerous assessments on the ship in the Port of Philadelphia, where it has been docked for 20 years. The evaluation and testing included in-depth assessments of the ship’s structural condition; underwater inspections of the hull by divers; the examination of her fuel and salt water ballasting tanks; and a series of intensive engineering studies to deduce what would be needed to bring her back into service.

The technical feasibility study concluded that while the ship is remarkably intact and structurally sound, modifying the ship for today’s standards for oceangoing service (SOLAS) would require significant changes to the hull that would pose stability challenges. Additionally, the installation of a modern, state-of-the-art diesel electric propulsion plant would have necessitated altering of the existing shaft lines and rebuilding about 25 percent of the hull to reconfigure the ship to a twin shaft-twin rudder arrangement. While it was known that the vessel would need to have been essentially rebuilt from the inside out, these specific challenges, among others, collectively posed significant risk to the success of the project.

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The new United States by Crystal Cruises ©CrystalCruises

“While it has been determined that Crystal’s exciting vision for the ship would have required overcoming various technical hurdles and major changes to her historic design, the studies performed have confirmed the ship is structurally sound,” said Susan Gibbs, Executive Director of the SS United States Conservancy. “America’s Flagship continues to hold enormous potential as a stationary mixed-use development and museum in New York or another urban waterfront setting.”

The former RMS Queen Mary, now Hotel Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, may be an example of what the future might bring for the SS United States. For more on what a possible future for ‘America’s Flagship’ might look like see our post Queen Mary – history preserved.

The decision by Crystal Cruises to drop their plans to save and relaunch the SS United States reminds us of the uncertain future of another famous oceanliner, QE2. You can read more on that uncertain future in our QE2: past – present – future? post. We can only hope that both grand ladies of maritime history will eventually have some kind of future other than the scrapyard.


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