NCL Buys Vintage Liners

Veitch says the legendary United States and Independence are likely to cruise between American ports

By: Anne Kalosh

MIAMI Norwegian Cruise Line’s surprise purchase of two vintage ocean liners, the United States and the Independence, has delighted many fans of the legendary ships.

“I don’t think there’s anything we’ve done in the last three years that’s got as much attention,” NCL President and CEO Colin Veitch told TravelAge West.

“The United States is not some old forgotten relic. It has a place in the hearts and minds of many people.”

During its 1952 maiden voyage, the United States set a North Atlantic crossing record of three days, 10 hours and 42 minutes, shaving 10 hours off the Queen Mary’s time, and running at speeds averaging almost 36 knots.

Like other liners, it fell victim to the jumbo-jet era, was mothballed in 1969, and lately has been languishing in Philadelphia.

The 1951-built Independence sailed the Hawaiian islands for many years under the American Hawaii Cruises banner, most recently as part of the American Classic Voyages fleet.

The ship sold for $4 million at a bankruptcy auction in February.

The purchaser, who was not identified at the time, turned out to be a shell company acting on behalf of NCL. The “Indy” remains tied up in San Francisco.

NCL snapped up the liners “when it became apparent we would be able to build a U.S.-flag initiative,” Veitch said.

Recent federal legislation gave NCL the right to complete two Project America ships which were intended for American Classic Voyages, until its post-9/11 collapse and register them, along with a third NCL ship, in the United States. The trio will then sail in Hawaii without being required to visit a foreign port.

The vintage liners aren’t expected to enter service for several years. The plan, Veitch said, is to focus on completing the Project America ships and then have the United States and the Independence come in on the heels of that success.

Veitch said the vintage vessels probably will be used for mainland itineraries.

“The idea with these two additional ships is to put them where there isn’t any cruising at the moment,” Veitch said. “They are U.S.-flag, so they can go from U.S. port to U.S. port without calling at a foreign port in between.”

Asked if either might operate from California where cities such as San Diego and San Francisco have lobbied for federal exemptions so foreign-flag ships could cruise the coast legally Veitch declined to give specifics.

He did suggest that the United States and the Independence would offer varied routes rather than fixed, year-round deployments.

The cost of updating the aging, steam-turbine liners could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s a large number,” Veitch acknowledged. “We’re really talking about a newbuild in an existing hull.”

American yards will work on the hulls and the superstructures, with interiors to be completed in Europe.