Return of ‘Big U’ delayed by problems with Pride of America

Problems over the winter with Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America have put plans to renovate SS United States on hold.

SS United States remains at the berth in Philadelphia where it has sat idle for years. NCL, which bought the liner in 2003, says it remains committed to returning the ship to service.
   Image Credit: Courtesy Mark Perry

On Jan. 14, the 72,000-gt cruise ship Pride of America sank at dry dock at a German shipyard. The vessel was being renovated for use in NCL’s Hawaiian Islands cruises. “Our focus has been on getting that ship salvaged and repaired,” said Susan Robison, spokeswoman for NCL.

As a result of the problems with Pride of America, NCL was forced to substitute the 77,104-ton Norwegian Sky (renamed Pride of Aloha) for the damaged ship. Delivery date for Pride of America is now the summer of 2005, according to Robison.

At the end of 2003, an NCL team went to Philadelphia, where SS United States is berthed, to do a technical review of the vessel, according to Robison. “We would like to report that she is in good shape, and we are taking very good care of her,” she said.

NCL has also catalogued more than 100 boxes of blueprints of the vessel that were received from the previous owners. The vessel was designed by the famed naval architect William Francis Gibbs and built by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Virginia. Cantor Cos., of Linden, N.J., owned the ship before selling it to NCL in April 2003. SS United States has been inactive for 35 years, after making the trans-Atlantic run for 18 years.

Robison said no date has been set for the return to service of SS United States. The company wants to make sure its U.S.-flagged vessels in Hawaii, Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, succeed. In May 2003 NCL created a new brand, NCL America, under which all its American-flagged vessels will sail. NCL plans to add a third U.S.-flagged ship, not yet named, to its Hawaiian fleet.

Only with the success of these vessels, “will we be able to succeed with the even more complex challenge of bringing back the S.S. United States,” Robison stated in a letter to members of the SS United States Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based group that has fought to preserve America’s longest and fastest ocean liner.

NCL remains committed to bringing back the ship, Robison said. In April, NCL and Carnival Corp. signed an agreement with New York City, guaranteeing a minimum of 13 million passengers and $200 million in port charges through 2017, which will help pay for renovations of the New York Passenger Cruise Terminal.

Robert Westover, chairman and chief executive of the SS United States Foundation, is concerned about NCL’s plans for the vessel. Colin Veitch, NCL’s president, has stated publicly that the company plans to remove the original engines on SS United States. If the engines were removed and the engine rooms altered, the vessel would lose its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Westover said.

The four steam turbine engines on United States generated 241,000 hp, which allowed the vessel to travel at 38 knots during time trials before its launch, but some believed the vessel had the capability to go 50 knots.

The foundation has not yet decided how to respond, but the group is concerned about removal of parts of the vessel that made it historically important. Westover said that even keeping a significant portion of one of the engine rooms would help preserve the vessel’s integrity.

“Everyone understands the economics involved here,” he said. “No one is asking them to restore her to 1954 splendor. What we’re asking is that they take a realistic assessment. I have spoken to numerous engineers who say there is a lot that can be saved on that ship, if they’re willing to talk about it.”

An NCL spokesperson said the company did not wish to comment on Westover’s concerns at this time.

By Professional Mariner Staff