Latest SS United States Renovation Plan Scrapped

Crystal Cruises announced a renovation of the ship in February. Now the company is backing out.

SS United States

The SS United States in September 2015 | Photo by Dan McQuade

When Crystal Cruises announced a $700 million renovation of the SS United States in February, it said it would take nine months of studying before it could proceed.

It only took six months to decide against returning the ship to service. Crystal Cruises announced today the feasibility study was complete, and the company wouldn’t return the ship to active service as a cruise liner.

“Over the past six months, Crystal has conducted an extensive feasibility study to restore ‘America’s Flagship’ to oceangoing service,” Crystal Cruises President and CEO Edie Rodriguez said in a release. “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.”

Restored SS United States - rendering

A rendering of a restored SS United States released in February by Crystal Cruises. They announced today the plan had been abandoned.

The ship was proven still structurally sound by the $1 million feasibility study, which was led by retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Tim Sullivan. He told the New York Times a major challenge was the ability to fly under the U.S. flag. Though the ship was made in America, Crystal is owned by Genting Hong Kong. Significant changes to the hull would also need to be made to conform to today’s standards, which consultants said could cause stability issues. Any renovation that would return the ship to seagoing service would require rebuilding about 25 percent of the hull.

Crystal is donating $350,000 to the SS United States Conservancy, which said it would redouble efforts to save the ship. “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 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 SS United States Conservancy remains deeply committed to saving this unique and powerful symbol of the nation’s strength, history, and innovation.” Gibbs’ grandfather, William Francis Gibbs of Rittenhouse Square, designed the ship.

The ship has been “saved” many times throughout its 20-year history docked in South Philadelphia, but none have actually led to the redevelopment of the ship. Now that the ship has been proven structurally sound, any future angel investors would not have to do that costly study. The issues with the hull hint that any possible future for the SS United States would be as a docked attraction, like with the RMS Queen Mary (now a hotel, museum and event center in Long Beach, California).

“The Conservancy is deeply grateful to Crystal Cruises for recognizing the SS United States’ historic importance and for working so hard on the ship’s behalf,” Gibbs said. “I would also like to thank our members and supporters from across the country and around the world for their continued support. Together we will continue to work tirelessly to save America’s Flagship and honor the legendary liner’s legacy.”

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