The Uncertain Fate Of The Fastest Ocean Liner Ever Built

The Uncertain Fate Of The Fastest Ocean Liner Ever Built

The SS United States is the world’s fastest passenger ship, and the biggest ever built in the US. Despite last-minute donations and plans to transform it into startup offices and awesome restaurants, advocates are still fighting to save it from the scrapyard.

It’s an old ocean liner — relics of the past, they’re ships designed to ferry passengers between continents, but were totally dethroned by planes after World War II. The only ocean liner left in operation today is the Queen Mary 2. The SS United States, meanwhile, is an American treasure: It served royalty and celebrities, and still holds the record for the fastest transatlantic journey for any ocean liner.

It costs $US60,000 a month to keep the run-down ship safely moored in Philadelphia. Yesterday, the SS United States Conservancy, a nonprofit fighting to save the liner, announced on its Facebook page that it raised $US100,000 in donations last month, which saved the historic vessel. For now.

Completed in 1952, the 300m-long boat was originally a top secret Cold War project to build the world’s fastest ship, but ended up as a high-power, hi-tech luxury ocean liner. Some of its passengers have included heads of state like Kennedys, old Hollywood stars like Judy Garland, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe, and artists like Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.

It still holds the record for the fastest transatlantic journey: Speed tests clocked a top speed of 38 knots (70km/h), and on its maiden voyage, it broke the transatlantic speed record in both directions, and still holds the record 60 years later. It was retired 46 years ago and has remained stationed in Philadelphia for the last 20.

The ship was a technical feat back in the day, as well, learning from many lessons from the Titanic: It has an improved rudder that sustained good manoeuvrability at high speeds, had more lifeboats than required by law (the SSUS lifeboats were aluminium to make them lighter), and was the first ocean liner to come equipped with a radar mast.

Known as “America’s flagship,” it is the biggest passenger ship ever built in the US, and the fastest passenger ship ever built in the world.

But the costs of maintaining it are becoming unsustainable, and it desperately needs restoration. Luckily, there could be plans to bring it to New York City and transform it into a brand new, usable, commercial space.

These photos show the ship as it appears today, currently based in Philadelphia. Credit: SS United States Conservancy

A New York City investor has expressed interest in hauling it to NYC’s Red Hook district: a harbour neighbourhood in Brooklyn known for its microbrews and industrial vibes. Entrepreneur John Quadrozzi, who owns the Red Hook docks, has apparently offered to harbour the ship for free until its future has been officially decided. He also wants to help in the mission to turn it into mixed-use development, he told The Brooklyn Paper. The plan is to transform the inside of the ship into offices for startups, restaurants, a theatre, gym, bars, a maritime museum and school, and more. He also wants it to be eco-friendly, relying on solar and wind power.

Sounds cool, but the plan would cost anywhere from a staggering $US50 to $US200 million, which isn’t including the $US2 million needed to bring the ship from Philly to Brooklyn, Curbed reports.

The $US100,000 in donations announced today is enough to keep the ship from the scrap heap, but not forever. The Conservancy’s board will “convene next week to assess our current situation from a financial, redevelopment and broker standpoint.” The Brooklyn Paper says Quadrozzi and the Conservancy are “in the midst of talks with donors, developers, investors, and government agencies to fund the endeavour.”

Amazing engineering feats like the SS United States are an important part of American history and heritage. Hopefully the ship’ll be around to impress landlubbers for generations to come.

Here’s what the ship looked like back in the fifties. Credit: SS United States Conservancy

The ship completing her maiden voyage from Europe to New York on 15 July 1952. Credit: Frank O. Braynard Collection/SS United States Conservancy Facebook

[SS United States Conservancy via The Guardian, Curbed, The Brooklyn Paper and New York magazine]

Top photo: SS United States Conservancy