The Ship of the Year Award honors a vessel that has made or is making a major contribution to the purpose of the society. The winner of the 2000 award is the Independence of American Hawaii Cruises
, which is now nearing her 50th anniversary in service. After serving on the Atlantic for 17 years, Independence has spent the last 21 years successfully sailing in the Hawaiian Islands.
Independence, and her sister Constitution, was the American alternative to the Italian Line ships that dominated the New York to Italy service in the 1950's. Independence was built for the American Export Line in 1951 at the Bethlehem Steel Company yard in Quincy, Mass. She was built with a gross tonnage of 30,293, a length of 683 ft., width of 89 ft. and a service speed of 23 knots. Her capacity in 1951 was 295 in first class, 375 in cabin class and 330 in tourist class.
During the 1950's and early 1960's, Independence operated on a three-week express run between New York, Algeciras, Naples, Genoa and Cannes. She was very popular with Americans and also built a strong following with the Italians, many of who were immigrants traveling to the United States. In the mid-1960's, she, like many transatlantic liners, began to offer cruises with a greater frequency. Within three years, by the fall of 1968, the losses that she was operating at forced her removal from service.
Independence spent the next six years at lay-up in Baltimore. In 1974, C.Y. Tung, owner of Orient Overseas Lines, purchased the ship. She was sent to Hong Kong where her lay-up continued for another year.
She was then sent to South Africa to run cruises into the Indian Ocean, but rather was chartered by the government of Portugal to evacuate Angolan colonials. After this, Oceanic Independence, as she had been renamed, was again laid-up, awaiting a brighter future.
In a very bold move, the Oceanic Independence was re-flagged under the American flag and entered the seven-day cruise trade in Hawaii in July 1980. The ship became very popular, with a new cruise capacity of 721 passengers. In 1982 the Constitution returned
to service, also in Hawaii, and Oceanic Independence was renamed Independence again. Both ships sailed together for the next twelve years.
In early 1993, Sam Zell, an American entrepreneur and real estate investor, who currently serves as the Chairman of American Classic Voyages, gained control of American Hawaii Cruises
. He knew that the Independence needed a major refurbishment and mechanical upgrades in order to stay competitive with the hotels in Hawaii. In 1994, Independence sailed to Newport News, Va., for a multi-million dollar upgrade. She was totally redone in a Hawaiian motif. New cabins were added, lounges rebuilt and the public rooms "opened-up" by connecting the lounges to the lanais. A focus on the culture and history of Hawaii was brought onboard the ship for the enjoyment of about 50,000 passengers a year. The designs of Henry Dreyfuss, the original designer, are still visible throughout the ship.
She is as fresh and modern today as she was 50 years ago and the management of American Hawaii Cruises, a subsidiary of American Classic Voyages Co., lead by Chief Executive Officer Philip C. Calian, must be applauded for the wonderful care they have given to this great ship which is now in 21st year of service in Hawaii.