Court Rules That Historic Ocean Liner Must Relocate

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The controversial court case between the SS United States Conservancy and Penn Warehousing that would determine the fate of the legendary SS United States has officially come to a conclusion. 

The Conservancy that maintains and protects the historic ocean liner has been embroiled in an intense rent dispute with the Philadelphia-based shipping company after Penn Warehousing raised the rent for the ship’s berth from $850 to $1,700 (USD) without warning in 2021, which was unsustainable for the nonprofit.

In 2022, tensions rose when Penn Warehousing terminated the lease agreement and sued the Conservancy, claiming the nonprofit owed more than $700,000 in back rent after it refused to accept the rent increase.

SS United States in Port
SS United States in Port (Photo Credit: Kirkam)

While the Conservancy hoped to keep “America’s Flagship” docked in Philadelphia, where she was designed by a local naval architect named William Francis Gibbs, the US District Court of Philadelphia ruled that it was not to be. 

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Anita B. Brody ruled that the ship needs to vacate its current dock at Pier 82 by September 12, 2024, or risk being lost. The Pier served as the vessel’s home for more than a decade. 

“The judge’s decision gives us a very limited window to find a new home for the SS United States and raise the resources necessary to move the ship and keep her safe. We must do both to avoid the tragic fate that countless supporters from around the world have worked for over a decade to prevent,” said Conservancy President Susan Gibbs, the granddaughter of the ship’s famed designer.

The Conservation has already begun looking into potential pier locations throughout the East Coast that could accommodate the nearly 1,000 foot-ocean liner, but needs help from the public to secure enough funds for the nonprofit to pay for the move. 

“Relocating a ship the size of the SS United States is complex and costly. It requires funds for insurance, tugs, surveys, and dock preparations to ensure the ship’s safe passage to a new home,” Gibbs explained. 

The Conservancy is currently accepting donations as part of an urgent campaign on their website to help save this symbol of American ingenuity.  

A Lucky Break: SS United States Conservancy Doesn’t Owe Back Rent

While the order for 1951 ocean liner to relocate is a huge blow, the SS United States Conservancy did get one win. 

Senior Judge Brody determined that Penn Warehousing wasn’t allowed to double dockage fees without notice in what was an apparent effort to “force” the American symbol from Pier 82. She also ruled that the Conservancy does not owe any back rent. 

This is certainly good news for the nonprofit, which could have been on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent had the court not ruled in its favor. 

SS United States Docked in Philadelphia
SS United States Docked in Philadelphia (Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov)

Read Also: Ocean Liner vs Cruise Ship – What are the Differences?

Even so, the cost and logistics of moving the old, preserved ocean liner puts its fate in jeopardy. 

“While the Conservancy was vindicated in not being compelled to pay a large sum of back rent to the SS United States’ pier operator, the ruling makes clear this iconic American symbol is in peril,” said Gibbs. 

The verdict also calls plans to redevelop what was once the once fastest ship in the world into question.

In November of 2023, the Conservancy announced a partnership with investment firm RXR and management company MCR Hotels to reinvent the ship as a mixed-use facility that would include lodging, a museum memorializing the ocean liner’s storied history, dining venues, and public green space.

In its golden years, when SS United States was actively sailing from 1952 to 1969, the 53,329-gross-ton vessel could accommodate up to 1,984 passengers.

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