Iconic ocean liner SS United States faces an uncertain horizon

The SS United States, the classic American ocean liner of the 1950s – 1960s, finds its future in doubt yet again. Currently docked at South Philadelphia’s Pier 82, a federal judge is set to rule whether the grand cruise liner will be evicted from its current home.

A large ship is being loaded onto a truck.
The SS United States docked in Philidelphia.

Owners of the SS United States owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in dock fees. The SS United States Conservancy says if the ship is forced from its current berth soon, it could spell the end for the ship, with no new home secured.

“We’re in a race against time. We’re hopeful but the clock is ticking,” said conservancy president, Susan Gibbs, who is the granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs.

A fee dispute means ship will have to leave Philly

A truck is parked next to an old rusty ship.
The SS United States has seen better days.

The classic cruise liner has been docked in Philadelphia since 1996. The dispute over fees began in 2021 when wharf owner Penn Warehousing and Distribution doubled the ship’s fees from $850 per day to $1,700. The conservancy’s attorney says the fee hike was imposed unilaterally and not negotiated with the conservancy.

It has been paying the lower fee since then, with outstanding payments now thought to be over $700,000. The conservancy argued the lower rent should have been applied until the ship could find a new home. The group has acknowledged the ship will have to vacate Pier 82, and the issue now is timing. A federal court will soon rule on this. 

“The urgency right now is finding a temporary dock for the ship,” conservancy board member, Warren Jones told CBS Philadelphia. “If this ship is evicted, it would have to be scrapped or reefed,” Jones said.

“We hope she will be towed into dry dock and resurrected as a mixed-use museum development, hotel event space and can be reborn as the American icon that she has been,” Gibbs added.

Ocean liner previously owned by NCL

A large ship is being loaded onto a truck.
The vessel is rotting away with every day that goes by.

Before the SS United States Conservancy took over management of the ship in 2011, it was briefly owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. NCL bought the ship at auction and originally intended to put the ship into service on domestic Hawaii island itineraries but this was never realized. 

After NCL’s botched attempt to revive the ship, Crystal Cruises intended to purchase the ocean liner but found out how costly it would be to revive the vessel and backed out of the deal.

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