The following article appeared in the May 23, 2008, edition of Cruise News Daily and is provided as a sample of the types of feature articles we publish. (Please note: Links were valid at time of publication.)
It's the Memorial Day Weekend in the United States. In case your plans get rained out, we came across some interesting reading for you, appropriately about the SS United States, the classic American oceanliner, laid up in Philadelphia still seeming to be just waiting for its chance to sail again.
Over the past several weeks, there have been a couple of articles published about the legendary ship, which is still owned by NCL or some division thereof.
The first is in Popular Mechanics (and yes, they show you how to build your own model of the ship), and it is written by an author whose fascination with the ship began when he sailed on it as a child (classic picture included). He looks briefly at the history, at the ship today, and (probably less accurately) at its future. (More on that in a moment.) The article is available at http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/transportation/4263478.html
An article, similar in tone, though slightly less pessimistic and also published in the last couple of weeks, appears on the ABC News website at http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/BusinessTravel/Story?id=4751136
And the final entry into the SSUS trifecta is a PBS special called "SS United States: Lady in Waiting." As with most PBS shows, they appear in your area when your local PBS station decides they should, and if PBS is smiling upon you, this production will be running in your area this weekend. If not, you can get a preview at the production company's website at http://www.bigshipfilms.com/
and watch a 3-minute preview. You can also purchase a DVD of the complete show at the same website.
As noted in the stories, Norwegian Cruise Line still owns United States, and they hold the keys to its future. Recently when we talked with NCL CEO Colin Veitch, he told CND that United States "is still there as a viable option for us - or for someone else."
The Popular Mechanics article seems to indicate that the possibility looms for United States being scrapped, and bases some of that on the fact that NCL recently sold Independence and Norway.
Norway was, of course, sold when it was finally determined that it could not be put back into sailing condition after its accident for a reasonable amount of money that could make it profitable. It was later resold for scrap.
United States and Independence were purchased by NCL at the outset of the NCL America operation as an investment in their future. Since the two ships were American-built, it was about the only way the company could ever expand its American-flagged fleet, short of getting another Congressional exemption, which seemed unlikely. Veitch said right from the start that they wouldn't be actively working to rebuild those ships or put them into service until NCLA was operating profitably and there was a need for them. He was also very candid in saying that Independence's future was more cloudy than United States.
Less was known about Independence, since over the years, there had been more engineering studies done on United States. Since the two ships were purchased by NCL, we've spoken with Veitch regularly about them. He's always said that it was rather questionable if Independence could ever meet maritime codes and ever sail for NCLA, but they have maintained it until last February when it was sold. He told CND at that time that "with the retrenchment of our modern-ship fleet in Hawaii, we could see no prospect of using the Independence again."
The purchaser has towed the ship toward the Middle East and insists that it is not being scrapped but has never made any plans for it public.
"[United States' status] is different," Veitch told CND. "We are looking at what to do with United States now. United States has much more of a name than Independence had and is frankly in much better condition than Independence was. The prospects for United States are ... different," he said.
Again, over the years, each time we've talked about United States, he's said that each step that has been done in studying the ship has shown them that bringing the ship to meet current passenger expectations and making it meet current maritime codes is a viable option which can be done at a cost that will allow them to operate it profitably. There are still more studies to be done, however, before they are certain of it. NCL has been taking their time having those done because there's no need for the ship at this point. Once a need can be seen on the horizon, then we can expect to see things move more quickly in determining the overall viability of the project.
But unlike the tone of the Popular Mechanics article, Veitch doesn't seem to see United States heading off to scrap. "United States is an intriguing enough property that we're still interested in it, and from time to time we get inquiries from others who are interested in it," Veitch said. That hasn't been the case with either of the other two classic ships they have sold. So if United States never sails for NCL America, it will probably end up in someone else's loving possession to restore.