SS United States Conservancy Exploring Sale of Ship for Scrap

If the Conservancy can't get more funding by October 31st, it says it will sell the ship for scrap metal.

SS United States

The SS United States, docked in South Philadelphia in September 2015. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

“The Conservancy has never been closer to saving the SS United States, nor so close to losing her.”

That is the message from the SS United States Conservancy today, as it announced it has partnered with a broker to explore the sale of the ship to a “responsible, U.S.-based metals recycler.”

Sound familiar? It should. In 2010, the ship was about to be sold for scrap when Gerry Lenfest donated millions to help the Conservancy buy the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line. In November 2013, the Conservancy warned that if plans did not come together quickly, the ship could be sold for scrap.

Last summer, the Conservancy again warned of the scrap heap as others floated plans to save the ship and move it to Brooklyn (or Chester). The Conservancy made a final push to save the ship, which was extended when it entered into a preliminary agreement for redevelopment in December.

Today, announced with a New York Times story, comes this “Last S.O.S.” (per a cheeky NYT headline). The Conservancy is exploring a sale for scrap, with a strong deadline of October 31st. “We will have no choice but to negotiate the sale of the ship to a responsible recycler,” the Conservancy said in a statement. Susan Gibbs, the Conservancy’s director, is the granddaughter of ship architect William Francis Gibbs.

SS United States - Skyline

A view of the Philly skyline from the SS United States in South Philadelphia. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

The ship has been headed to the scrap heap for years now, only to be saved at the final moment. So what could save her this time? The Conservancy is again asking for donations, and has a fundraiser at the Union League on October 29th. (Tickets go from$125 to $5,000.) The Conservancy is also looking for another last-minute donation like it got from Lenfest in 2010.

The SS United States was built in 1952 as a luxury liner intended for quick passage between the U.S. and England. It still holds the eastbound and westbound transatlantic speed records. In the event of a war, the ship was designed to carry 15,000 service members 10,000 miles without refueling. It was built partly with government funds, per the NYT.

Airplanes quickly made the ship obsolete. The SS United States went out of service in 1969. It had its asbestos removed in the early 1990s, and has been docked in South Philadelphia since 1996. Yes, it has been docked in Philadelphia longer than it was actually in service.

But it’s going to leave. Some casino plans several years ago for the ship at the site fell through. (Casinos are a popular proposal. In 1977, Harry Jay Katz planned to move the ship to the Atlantic City marina and retrofit it for gambling.) Previous studies by the Conservancy, however, said it would in unfeasible to keep the ship as an attraction in its current location. It is certain to move from its spot eventually.

Since an Ikea opened across Columbus Boulevard in 2004, the Ikea is often referenced in news stories about the SS United States. (The Times mentioned the Ikea today.) Perhaps Ikea can invest in the ship — it’s received so much free advertising! Barring an influx of cash, the SS United States could finally be headed to the scrap heap.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.