Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Longshoremen cast off lines for the SS Independence as it left Honolulu Harbor Oct. 30, 2001.

Norwegian buys
SS Independence


Wednesday, April 16, 2003

» Norwegian Cruise Line bought the SS United States from an undisclosed private owner. A story in the early edition yesterday incorrectly said the ship had been owned by the U.S. Maritime Administration.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

By Russ Lynch

Norwegian Cruise Line has purchased the 53-year-old SS Independence, a cruise ship that plied Hawaiian waters for 21 years for American Classic Voyages Inc. before the operator went bankrupt in October 2001.

When it left Honolulu Harbor on Oct. 30, 2001, after cutting short its last round-the-islands voyage, most observers thought the "Indy" would end up in the scrapyard.

By today's standards, the ship is not fuel efficient and passengers had reported that despite a number of refits, it had been showing its age for years.

It had its romantic history though, and Hawaii residents and visitors got used to its flower-painted twin stacks and its classical look, very different from the floating resort hotels that dominate today's cruise industry.

NCL also acquired a much more famous ship, with its own slight Hawaii connection, the SS United States, which like the Independence was built in the United States and is about the same age.

The Independence was purchased in a public auction for just over $4 million from the U.S. Maritime Administration which took it over after American Classic declared bankruptcy. NCL declined to disclose what it paid for the SS United States or identify the seller.

NCL said today it has not finalized its plans for either ship. It was not known whether either of them could end up in Hawaiian waters, but a longtime supporter of preserving the United States, Honolulu resident Robert Westover, said his organization, the SS United States Foundation, will lobby to get the ship to operate in Hawaii.

Westover, an account supervisor at public relations firm Communications-Pacific, got involved with the United States when he worked for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., and supporters managed to get the ship on to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

"We're lobbying for her to be brought to Hawaii. This is a mature market," he said, meaning cruise ship passengers coming to Hawaii are old enough to remember the ship.

"She has such lines, such sleek lines. She is so beautiful. I don't think it's an understatement to say she was one of the greatest ships ever built, if not the greatest," Westover said.

After Seattle-based Richard Hadley, the developer of several high-rise buildings in Hawaii, bought the ship from the federal government for $5 million in 1978, there were great hopes for it. In the end, Hadley, who was years ahead of his time with a plan to create a world-roving, floating timeshare resort, ran out of money and stripped off whatever parts he could and sold them, Westover said.

After several ownership and location changes, including a stay in Europe where it had asbestos removed, the ship is now docked in Philadelphia.

NCL tried to buy the ship in the 1970s but was turned down because its cold-war construction, mostly financed by the U.S. government, included secret hull designs and other features designed for military transportation and the government would not allow it to be sold to a foreign owner.

Those restrictions died out in the 1980s, Westover said.

Now, however, NCL is putting together a Hawaii operation under the U.S. flag, allowed by a congressional exemption based on the failure of American Classic's Project America plan to build two U.S.-constructed cruise ships. The company said that allows it to buy and operate the U.S.-built Independence and the United States.

NCL said it intends to convert the United States into a "state-of-the art, modern cruise ship and add her to NCL's planned US-flagged fleet."

In a statement yesterday, the company said a relaunched United States will create more than 1,000 American jobs aboard ship and 5,000 jobs on shore. NCL has already been projecting that its acquisition of the two Project America vessels abandoned by American Classic Voyages will mean 3,000 jobs aboard ship and 17,000 on shore, counting those working for the company or supplying the ships as well as those who indirectly benefit from the extra tourism generated.

The sleek-looking, two-funnel United States made a world-record crossing of the Atlantic in 3 days, 10 hours and 42 minutes in 1952 but the jet age took over and the ship ceased operating in late 1969. According to the Web site, run by preservation supporters, the United States is 990 feet long, weighs 53,330 tons and has a cruising speed of 35 knots. In its original configuration it had 630 staterooms and space for a crew of more than 300.

The SS Independence is smaller, about 700 feet long and 24,000 tons, and carried 860 passengers in its last configuration.

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