Just days away from a verdict on its ultimate fate, the historic cruise liner SS United States has received a lifeline in the form of a $150,000 donation to a fundraising effort which aims to save “America’s flagship” and restore the storied vessel to its former glory.
The $150,000 contribution from cruise industry executive Jim Pollin to the SS United States Conservancy's "We are the United States" campaign has enabled the national nonprofit organization to extend its fundraising and outreach effort through mid-September.
Launched in 1952 as the fastest, largest and safest passenger liner in the world, the SS United States was regarded as an American symbol of elegance and technological prowess, capturing the transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage (a record still held to this day), and transporting more than one million passengers over her lifetime, including four U.S. presidents, international royalty and countless Hollywood celebrities.
Yet despite her former grandeur, the ship was retired from service in 1969 and has spent years mothballed at dock in Philadelphia in an escalating state of disrepair, all the while holding off a looming trip to the scrapyard or the bottom of the sea, having last sailed under her own power more than 40 years ago.
The Conservancy, now in a race against time to raise the funds to cover the ship's ongoing monthly carrying costs at its current pier, said it was just days away from a decision to either scrap or reef the vessel.
"This donation gives us more time to raise additional resources for the ship's expenses as we continue to negotiate with prospective developers and secure a permanent location for the vessel," stated the Conservancy's executive director, Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the vessel’s designer, renown naval architect William Francis Gibbs. "Jim Pollin's passion for the SS United States is inspiring and extraordinary. He is a hero to all those who care about saving our nation's heritage."
The Conservancy, which saved the ship from certain destruction in 2011, had set a goal of raising $500,000 to keep the ship afloat back in May. To date, the "We are the United States" campaign has raised nearly $200,000, as the organization is actively courting developers and investors to revitalize the vessel as a stationary, mixed-use, landmark destination.
Several commercial attempts to save the ship have been made over the years, including the most recent in February 2016, when Crystal Cruises reached a deal with the Conservancy to potentially restore the Big U to liner service. The plans were halted once an intensive $1 million vessel evaluation uncovered insurmountable technical and commercial challenges.
But Pollin believes the vessel can be saved: "There is no doubt in my mind that if the Conservancy can continue to keep the United States afloat that a viable option for her future will be presented," he said. "So much of who we are as a country is represented by this great ship. Americans need to step up now to help save her. The United States is as much a part of our nation as the ground on which we live and work. We cannot allow her to be destroyed. It would be a terrible loss for the nation."
Gibbs said, "We hope that this generous donation inspires others to contribute and help us secure a bright future for the SS United States. Sixty-five years ago this month the ship returned to New York after her record-breaking maiden voyage, and she became a national heroine. That America's Flagship remains afloat today is a remarkable testament to the ship's resilience and historical importance."