This historic SS United States will have a new owner and more remarkably could return to service after more than 40 years of waiting. Crystal Cruises has taken out an option to buy the ship with the intent being to renovate the vintage ocean liner and Blue Riband holder. Hurdles remain however as the ship will require hundreds of millions in work and years of effort to ply the seas again.
In 1952 the late United States Lines took possession of the SS United States. The ship was a joint venture with the U.S. Navy and intended as a potential high-speed troop ship for use during the Cold War. The ship captured the legendary Blue Riband for her amazing speed crossing the Atlantic ocean and retains the title to this day. However in 1969 the ship was removed from service, and like most of her peers seemed doomed to the history books.
Handed down through a series of owners including Norwegian Cruise Lines, the present owners are the SS United States Conservatory, a non-profit whose aim has been to preserve the ship in some shape or form. While the conservatory has managed to keep the bills paid and slowly advance unfunded planning and concept development, without question the ship's fate was unsure.
Enter Crystal Cruises, headquartered in Hong Kong. The ship had previously been involved in the ownership of Norwegian Cruise Line and by way of it the SS United States. The line has an option to buy the ship, assuming it is able to clear the various regulatory hurdles and feasibility studies it will need. These include being able to get clearance to move the ship to remove hazardous materials still aboard and validating the ship can be affordably restored to operation.
It is here that the ship’s history begins to aid in surviving to sail again now. For decades the ship was kept sealed tightly from the outside elements. Until the end of the Cold War she was still kept in mothballs as a contingency if a troop ship was required. Her formidable propulsion plant was a down rated version of the same driving the Iowa class of battleships. The core of her engine spaces were kept dry in case they were needed again. Her hull was made of high-grade steel that is as resistant to rusting as any can be. Her upper structures feature some of the first uses of aluminum in naval construction. Even the twilight years bouncing between owners have helped her case now. An earlier and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to return the ship to service saw SS United States towed over seas where her interior was stripped down, removing asbestos-often a costly and problematic hurdle for any renovation project.
Will SS United States take to the sea again? The odds are better than ever before despite past failures and difficulties. If the concept illustration is any guide, the ship that goes to sea in two or three years will resemble the original legend but not without changes. As seen above, the ship will feature far fewer lifeboats, owing to larger capacity on modern options. The bridge structure will be removed and replaced with an extension which adds valuable staterooms. Balconies will grace the length of the ship above the promenade deck with presumably dining or multi-purpose spaces extending toward the after most space. If the presentation by Crystal Cruises proves accurate to what emerges from renovation work, the SS United States will carry some 2,400 passengers on worldwide itineraries.