Mar 14, 2024 - News

Historic liner's future hinges on judge's decision

The rusted exterior of the retired SS United States ocean liner.

The rusted exterior of the SS United States ocean liner at Pier 82 in Philadelphia. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The SS United States has been docked at Pier 82 in South Philadelphia for over two decades, but it faces eviction amid a legal battle with a landlord over back rent.

Why it matters: The ship's caretakers fear a piece of American history could be lost forever if the ocean liner is evicted and can't find another home.

Behind the scenes: The 1,000-foot vessel is bigger than the Titanic and became the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic during its maiden voyage in 1952, eclipsing a previous record held by the RMS Queen Mary.

  • The federal government helped pay for the vessel, which could've been deployed as a troopship in wartime. Instead, it was used as a transatlantic liner, carrying famous passengers such as Marilyn Monroe and Walt Disney.

Driving the news: Following a trial earlier this year, a federal judge will decide whether the vessel's landlord, Penn Warehousing, unfairly doubled its rent during the pandemic, NPR reported.

  • It's unclear when the judge may decide the case. Still, the SS United States Conservancy, the nonprofit caretakers, aren't waiting for a ruling and are actively searching for another home for the ship.
  • They've written to President Biden offering to donate the vessel to the government to keep it from being scrapped, NPR reported.

Flashback: The eviction dispute arose in 2022 when Penn Warehousing filed suit alleging the SS United States Conservancy owed more than $700,000 in back rent.

  • The nonprofit argued a signed rental agreement in place for more than a decade didn't allow for a sudden rise in rent.

By the numbers: The group says daily costs to moor the ship along the Delaware River soared from $850 to $1,700, per NPR.

Zoom in: In a post-trial court filing, the group pointed to trial testimony in which it says Penn Warehousing admitted raising the rent "to force the issue to get the ship off the dock."

  • The conservancy argued that the owner's "admission alone sinks" the case that it hiked rent to account for "rising costs."
  • Penn Warehousing didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Zoom in: Over the years, there have been proposals to turn the ship into a cruise liner or time-share condos, per the Inquirer.

The bottom line: Regardless of the judge's decision, the ship "needs a new home," Susan Gibbs, the conservancy's president, told NPR. "Time is of the essence."

  • The conservancy has floated options of returning the ship to its home base in Manhattan or finding a spot on the West Coast, per NPR.
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