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June 24, 2024

S.S. United States Conservancy seeks $500k to relocate the ship docked in South Philly for nearly 30 years

The old ocean liner is being evicted following a federal court ruling. Its caretakers are considering all options for the vessel's future, including the scrapyard and sinking it.

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SS United States Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The S.S. United States has docked along the Delaware River since 1996. Now, its conservancy is searching for a new home.

The S.S. United States needs a new home, and the group in charge of the historic ship says it needs $500,000 to find one.

The SSUSC — the conservancy whose mission is to preserve the ship — has launched an "urgent appeal for help" in the days following the ocean liner's eviction from Pier 82. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the ocean liner to leave the dock in South Philadelphia by Sept. 12, concluding a yearslong financial dispute between SSUSC and Pier 82 landlord Penn Warehousing. Now, the ship's caretakers are seeking half a million dollars to cover various moving costs, as well as maritime insurance and dockage fees at a new home, which has not yet been secured.

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In a newsletter sent Thursday, the SSUSC admitted it was "responsibly preparing for all scenarios," including recycling the ship or sinking it and transforming it into an artificial reef. Still, the conservancy hopes to raise the money in time to resettle the passenger liner, which beat the transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage in 1952.

"The ship that once smashed all records as she sped across the Atlantic Ocean is now in an intense race against time to remain safely afloat," the newsletter reads. "Could you imagine the Liberty Bell being scrapped or the Washington Monument toppled? We can't either."

Though the conservancy put forth a redevelopment proposal in November 2023 that would transform the ship into a hotel, museum, galleries and public green space, plans have remained at a standstill as the SSUSC searches for a permanent home. While the conservancy and its redevelopment partners have considered various other "host cities" on the East and West coasts — including Boston, Baltimore, New York, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C. — the S.S. United States is on the verge of homelessness for the time being.

The legal battle that resulted in the ship's eviction dates back to 2021, when Penn Warehousing increased the conservancy's daily dockage fee from $850 to $1,700. SSUSC refused to pay the new rate, continuing to pay the old rent until Penn Warehousing terminated its lease in 2022. The landlord then sued the conservancy for $290,700 in unpaid docking fees. 

Judge Anita B. Brody sided with the conservancy in part, ruling that it did not have to pay the fees and had not violated its lease agreement. She did, however, conclude the lease was terminable at will by Penn Warehousing and gave the ship 90 days to vacate Pier 82. The S.S. United States has been docked on the Delaware River since 1996.

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