Conservancy that oversees SS United States seeks $500K to help relocate historic ship

The conservancy that oversees the SS United States has launched an urgent $500,000 fundraising campaign to help cover relocation expenses for the historic ship amid its uncertain future.

The 1,000-foot ocean liner, which still holds the transatlantic speed record it set more than 70 years ago, must leave its berth on the Delaware River in Philadelphia by Sept. 12, a federal judge ruled earlier this month.

Besides finding a new home, the conservancy also must obtain funds for insurance, tugs, surveys and dock preparations for moving the ship, which is incapable of self-propulsion. The group is focusing its efforts on finding a temporary berth in the Philadelphia area or on the East Coast, and fears that if a temporary home cannot be found soon, the vessel could be lost forever.

“Our search for a new temporary or permanent location has been ongoing and began well before the litigation, but if a dock cannot be found in the coming weeks, we’ll be forced to commit to reefing or scrapping the vessel,” conservancy board member Warren Jones said in a statement posted on the group’s website.

Reefing refers to sinking the ship and turning it into an artificial reef and diving destination.

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody’s ruling ended a years-old rent dispute between the conservancy and its landlord, Penn Warehousing. It stemmed from an August 2021 decision by Penn Warehousing to double the ship’s daily dockage to $1,700, an increase the conservancy refused to accept.

When the conservancy continued to pay its previous rate, set in 2011, Penn Warehousing terminated the lease in March 2022. After much legal wrangling, Brody held a bench trial in January but also encouraged the two sides to reach a settlement instead of leaving it up to her.

She ultimately ruled that the conservancy’s failure to pay the new rate did not amount to a contract breach or entitle Penn Warehousing to damages. However, she found that under Pennsylvania contract law, the berthing agreement is terminable at will with reasonable notice.

Christened in 1952, the SS United States was once considered a beacon of American engineering, doubling as a military vessel that could carry thousands of troops. On its maiden voyage in 1952, it shattered the transatlantic speed record in both directions, when it reached an average speed of 36 knots, or just over 41 mph (66 kph), The Associated Press reported from aboard the ship.

On that voyage, the ship crossed the Atlantic in three days, 10 hours and 40 minutes, besting the RMS Queen Mary’s time by 10 hours. To this day, the SS United States holds the transatlantic speed record for an ocean liner.

It became a reserve ship in 1969 and later bounced to various private owners who hoped to redevelop it but eventually found their plans to be too expensive or poorly timed.

It has loomed for years on south Philadelphia’s Delaware waterfront.