Historic Speed Record Holder SS United States Ordered to Vacate Dock Amid Rent Dispute


Unfurling against the backdrop of a rent dispute, the historic SS United States stakes its claim as the only ship to continue to hold the transatlantic speed record for over seven decades, a formidable achievement set into the annals of history. Yet, it finds itself facing an unceremonious exit from its resting place. A mandate from a federal judge dictates that the venerable vessel must vacate its throne on the Delaware River in Philadelphia by the 12th of September.

This decree, issued by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, arrives as the climax of a years-long disagreement over docking fees between the conservancy responsible for the ship’s maintenance and its landlord, Penn Warehousing. The conflict began in August 2021 when Penn Warehousing decided to double the daily dockage fee to $1,700, a total which the conservancy flatly refused to meet.

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Continuing to pay at the previous rate established in 2011, the conservancy’s defiance led to the termination of the lease by Penn Warehousing in March 2022. Judge Brody held a bench trial in January following the dispute and nudged both parties towards a settlement, encouraging them to solve the issue amicably rather than having the court intervene.

In her judgement, Brody stated that while the conservancy was not in breach of contract and Penn Warehousing was not entitled to damages, Pennsylvania law allowed for the termination of the berthing agreement at will, given reasonable notice was provided. A specification already met by Penn Warehousing when it issued the termination notice in March 2022.

Conservancy president, Susan Gibbs, voiced her concern stating, “The judge’s decision gives us a very limited window to find a new home for the SS United States and raise the resources necessary to move the ship and keep her safe.” This task is made more daunting as along with securing a new dock, the Conservancy also must secure funds for insurance, surveys, tugs, and prepping for a move.

Speaking on behalf of Penn Warehousing, attorney Craig Mills expressed that while the ideal scenario would have seen the conservancy find a new purpose for the ship, the passage of time, decay, and delay have made it necessary to reclaim Pier 82 for commercial service.

The SS United States, christened in 1952, was celebrated as an emblem of American engineering prowess. Its dual role as a military vessel with the capacity to transport thousands of troops underscored its significance. During its maiden voyage in 1952, the ship smashed the transatlantic speed record in both directions, hitting an average speed of 36 knots, just above 41 miles per hour. This voyage saw the ship traverse the Atlantic in three days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes, beating the RMS Queen Mary by a significant 10 hours.

Even today, the SS United States proudly boasts of the transatlantic speed record for an ocean liner. The vessel served as a reserve ship in 1969 but was passed on to several private owners with high hopes for redevelopment, only for those plans to be thwarted by monetary constraints or ill-timing. Now, its imposing figure has been a familiar sight on south Philadelphia’s Delaware waterfront for many years.