Iconic Ocean Liner Facing Eviction, Time is Running Out

The decision on the SS United States should be made soon. How much overdue rent does she owe, and what may happen if it cannot be paid?

The fate of the SS United States is still in limbo as the court case over back rent and increased berth fees has not yet been decided, but such a decision could come any day.

If the case is decided against the ship, she will need to be removed from her south Philadelphia home, where she has been docked for nearly 30 years. Where could a new home for the vessel be? The answers are not all good ones.

SS United States Court Case Still Undecided

More than six weeks after the two-day court case hearing both sides of the disputes surrounding the SS United States, the case is as yet undecided whether or not the back rent will be due or will be declared null and void to preserve the ship’s berth space at Pier 82 in Philadelphia.

Should the federal case be decided against “America’s Flagship” and the SS United States Conservancy, the debts will become due and it is uncertain what may happen to the vessel.

According to CBS News Philadelphia, the outstanding fees related to the ship’s docking and berth space are greater than $731,000. Those fees are due to Penn Warehousing and Distribution, which owns the berth space.

While the ship has been docked in Philadelphia since 1996, it wasn’t until 2011 that Penn Warehousing took over the contract for the ship’s berth. In 2021, the rental fee was doubled from $850 to $1,700 per day, an increase that the SS United States Conservancy claims to have been implemented without proper notification and negotiation.

Should the case be decided against the ship, terms of repayment would still need to be determined.

Ship May Need to Move

Board members of the SS United States Conservancy have created a plan to move the ship if a new home is secured for the vessel, with the hopes that the legendary ship could be renovated into a mixed-use development with hotel rooms, event space, and other options that would appeal to a new generation of visitors to enjoy the ship and her amazing history.

Unfortunately, less desirable options may also be necessary if the ship must move from the space she has occupied for nearly three decades.

SS United States
SS United States

“If this ship is evicted, it would have to be scrapped or reefed,” said Conservancy board member Warren Jones. “There is no alternative – given the size of the ship.”

The SS United States entered service in 1952 and spent 17 years on transatlantic passenger runs, offering record-breaking times to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship is 53,329 gross tons and measures 990 feet long with a beam length of 101.5 feet at her maximum width. Her draft is approximately 32 feet, and from keel to funnel, she measures 175 feet across 12 decks.

When in service, the SS United States could welcome 1,928 passengers, and was also home to a crew of 900 to provide outstanding service to those aboard.

If the ship were to be scrapped, that work would likely be done at one of the major ship breaking facilities such as in Aliaga, Turkey; Alang, India; or Gadani, Pakistan.

Read Also: Discovering Abandoned Cruise Ships and Ocean Liners

There are also three ship breaking yards in the United States, two in Texas and one in California, but they may not be able to handle the work for a ship of this magnitude or may not have the time in their schedules when necessary.

If the ship were to be reefed, it would be deliberately sunk to become an artificial reef. To prepare for that fate, the ship would be moved to the appropriate location and all potentially hazardous materials would be removed before the vessel was scuttled.

A decision from the federal court is expected soon, though it could be months before the final fate of the vessel may be determined once this legal case is decided.


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