New role for United States

May 6, 2003
Author: P&S

Good news for those who long for a return to the days of cross Atlantic liners. Or at least some resemblance of those past days of glory, in the form of the 38,827-gt Blue Riband liner SS United States, which has been bought by Norwegian Cruise Lines for an undisclosed sum.

The 302-m ship has been acquired together with another American liner of 1950s vintage, the 20,221-gt Independence and both are to be modernised and converted for cruising, probably in US waters (excluding Hawaii). The hull and superstructure of SS United States will be refurbished at American shipyards with shopfitting and fitting out to be completed elsewhere, probably in Europe. Independence was last in service in 2001 but United States has been laid up for more than 30 years, although several attempts were made to return the ship to service.

SS United States, surely the most noteworthy Atlantic superliner of certainly the post World War II era, still holds the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a passenger liner and in her day was the most technologically advanced liner ever built. On her maiden crossing the ship completed the Atlantic crossing in a record 3 days, 10 hours and 42 minutes with her average service speed exceeding 35 knots, and taking more than 10 hours off Queen Mary’s record. The ship was reported to have achieved 38.25 knots during her trials and on one occasion in June 1952 reached 43 knots for a brief spell. Even in reverse the ship achieved 20 knots during sea trials!

During her all too few years of service SS United States maintained a near perfect operating schedule, well living up to her designer, William Francis Gibbs’ fullest expectations.

The ship had been built for two purposes, one obviously being the then lucrative Atlantic passenger trade. The other was a War Department requirement for a large and fast troopship, with the Korean War still in progress and the Cold War looming at the time she was being built. The US government ended up paying almost 70 percent of her USD78 million cost as a result of this requirement. For this reason the vessel was considered to be the most fireproof ship ever to go into service and was certainly the fastest, although the extensive use of aluminium in her superstructure in place of wood no doubt would have come under closer scrutiny had the ship been in military service following the Falklands War and the lessons learned there with aluminium superstructure.

Both ships will join another fabled liner in NCL colours, the former SS France now cruising as SS Norway.

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