The SS United States, one of the most storied ocean liners in history and an iconic symbol of America’s ingenuity, continues to be in danger over a rent dispute, but the SS United States Conservancy is now heading to court in an effort to protect the ship.
The federal court case began on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, and will hopefully draw enough attention that a resolution can be reached to save the vessel.
Court Case for SS United States
The SS United States – “America’s Flagship” – has been embroiled in a rent dispute with Penn Warehousing, the landlord over the berth space the ship is using in Philadelphia since she was first docked there in 1996.
The ship’s rent was doubled in 2021, from $850 to $1,700 (USD) per month, a level that appears unsustainable for the non-profit organization overseeing the vessel.
Also part of the dispute is back rent owed for the ship’s berth, which has contributed to the legal conflict.
The SS United States Conservancy is taking the matter to court, hoping to resolve the debts favorably and help protect the ship. The bench trial case is being heard in US District Court in Philadelphia.
“The Conservancy regrets that its rent dispute with Penn Warehousing is going to trial,” a statement from the Conservancy read. “Our first priority is the safety and security of this irreplaceable symbol of America.”
A projected timeline for the trial has not been released, but the outcome could be decided in a matter of days. Depending on the verdict, the next steps for the ship may take weeks, months, or even longer to effectively plan and implement.
Fate of the SS United States
If the Conservancy is found liable for the back rent and increased rent rates, the ship may be forced to be moved. While a plan to do just that is being developed, next steps have not yet been confirmed and the ship may be in jeopardy. It is possible the vessel could even be seized or its ownership changed to settle the outstanding debts.
The Conservancy hopes to keep the ship moored in Philadelphia, as the vessel was designed by the city’s own William Francis Gibbs. Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the naval architect, is the current president of the SS United States Conservancy.
The Conservancy’s mission is ultimately to redevelop the ship and preserve not only its hull, but its enduring legacy of history for new generations to discover.
“As an organization we will continue to work tirelessly to advance the preservation and redevelopment of the SS United States as a world-class destination and museum,” the Conservancy said. “At a time when Philadelphia plans to celebrate our country’s 250th birthday and draw people from around the world for the FIFA World Cup in 2026, the loss of the SS United States should be unimaginable.”
It is hoped that the publicity of the trial may raise awareness and compel local leaders and officials to take notice and join the effort to save the ship.
“We hope that Pennsylvania Governor Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Parker, PhilaPort officials, and other leaders throughout this country will recognize the economic potential and national historic significance of the SS United States,” said the Conservancy.
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“Joined by our thousands of proud supporters across the nation and around the globe, we look to government leaders to assist with our ongoing efforts to relocate the ship to a different temporary or permanent location.”
Where that new location may be is still up for speculation, though New York City is a top choice. Other port cities may also be options, depending on how any plans may be developed.
The outcome of the trial will have a huge impact on the fate of the SS United States, and hopefully her storied past can be preserved.