Cruise Line Cancels Plan to Return SS United States to Sea

A rendering of the restored SS United States. Image credit: Crystal Cruises
A rendering of the restored SS United States. Image credit: Crystal Cruises

Any hope of the SS United States returning to the high seas as a modern luxury cruise ship has now faded with Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises cancelling its plan to restore the vessel after a feasibility study determined that the project was just a bit too ambitious.

Crystal Cruises instead will be donating $350,000 to help secure a future for the famed transatlantic liner.

In February, Crystal announced it had reached an exclusive agreement with the SS United States Conservancy to purchase the ship with the goal of converting the iconic 1950s-era vessel into a modern, luxury cruise ship in compliance with all modern safety, environmental, and technical standards. The deal however was dependent on the results of a comprehensive feasibility led by retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Tim Sullivan.

Crystal revealed the disappointing news on Friday, saying that the study determined that although the ship was structurally sound, a number of technical challenges would prevent her return to modern seagoing service.

“Regrettably, the technical feasibility study concluded that while the ship is remarkably intact and structurally sound, modifying the ship for today’s standards for oceangoing service (SOLAS) would require significant changes to the hull that would pose stability challenges,” said Crystal Cruises and the Conservancy in a joint press statement. “Additionally, the installation of a modern, state-of-the-art diesel electric propulsion plant would have necessitated altering of the existing shaft lines and rebuilding about 25 percent of the hull to reconfigure the ship to a twin shaft-twin rudder arrangement. While it was known that the vessel would need to have been essentially rebuilt from the inside out, these specific challenges, among others, collectively posed significant risk to the success of the project.

Instead of advancing the purchase option, Crystal will be donating $350,000 to aid in the Conservancy’s ongoing mission to save the ship, which will help the Conservancy “immediately restart its aggressive outreach to qualified developers and investors to secure the ship’s future.”

The SS United States, aka “America’s Flagship”, has faced an uncertain future over the years. Last October, the Conservancy, faced with the challenge covering the vessel’s monthly expenses, began exploring options for the potential sale and scrapping of the ship. The news ignited an outpouring of public support, which helped the Conservancy raise an additional $600,000 in funds to continue its preservation efforts and negotiations with potential investors, ultimately saving the vessel from the scrapyard and lead to the agreement with Crystal Cruises. Unfortunately with the agreement now sunk, what’s in store for the SS United States is once again unknown. 

“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 SS United States 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.”