Oceanic (Indpendence) on a mysterious voyage

SS Independence renamed SS Oceanic was sold by Norwegian Cruise Line(NCL), the ship's last owner in 2007. NCL has refused this week to say who the new owner is.

The Independence measured 683 feet in length and weighed 26,000 tons. It was capable of cruising at 26 knots. It accommodated 1,000 passengers, and was designed to accommodate 5,000 soldiers during wartime. According to Life magazine, "It will house passengers in Henry Dreyfuss-designed cabins, apartments, and 'penthouses,' keep their shipboard spirits up with branches of Fifth Avenue shops, handsome public rooms and bars decorated with old tattoo designs, collections of ships in bottles and Early American silver. Late American devices include 125 feet of picture windows in the observation lounge, polarized glass in portholes to control light and glare, and bedside telephones from which a passenger can phone anyone within 5,000 miles."

Oceanic is the last US built ocean liner to sail under the American flag. She is a sister ship to SS Constitution, which sank while under tow to be scrapped in 1997.

Following the 2001 bankruptcy of American Global Line, the owners of the American Hawaii Line, SS Independence became the property of the US Maritime Administration and sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco, arriving on November 8, 2001.

In February 2003, Independence was sold at auction for US$4 million to Norwegian Cruise Line, which also acquired SS United States. At this time, NCL received permission to create US flagged cruise operation, to be named NCL America. (US flagging is a valuable competitive advantage, as the Jones Act prohibits non-US lines from transporting passengers from one US port to another without stopping at a foreign port, and in particular it permits 7-day Hawaii cruises. As US flagging requires US-built ships, no other major cruise operation is US-flagged.)

Mid 2006, Independence was renamed Oceanic, amid speculation she may be scrapped. In July 2007, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that the Oceanic had been sold with later reports claiming the ship had been purchased by an American company.

The ship as of now had been sold to California Manufacturing Corp, and is currently at Pier 70 awaiting removal and towed to India to be scrapped.

SS Independence was an ocean liner built in 1951 by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Quincy, Massachusetts, USA for American Export Lines. In 1959 she was rebuilt as a cruise ship. Between 1974 and 1982 she sailed as SS Oceanic Independence, after which she reverted to her original name. Since 2006 the ship has been named SS Oceanic She is currently laid up in Pier 70 at San Francisco and owned by California Manufacturing Corp.

San Francisco Chronicle on February 9, 2008 reported that the historic ocean liner Independence, the last liner built in the United States to sail under the American flag, was towed out of its berth on the San Francisco waterfront 8th February headed for an unknown future.

It left the dock quietly and slowly in a thick fog, like a wraith, like a ghost out of the past.

The Independence was a famous ship in its day, but that was long ago. The liner made its maiden voyage from New York on a cruise to the Mediterranean 57 years ago this month.

The old ship sailed under a new name: It has been called the Oceanic since summer.

Its voyage is also a bit of a mystery. Norwegian Cruise Line, the ship's last owner, sold it last year but refused this week to say who the new owner is.

There was even a minor mystery about its destination. Earlier this week, Leon Hall, of Inchcape Shipping Services, an agent representing the ship, said the final port of call "had not been decided yet." On Friday, however, the destination was listed as Singapore.

There is a lot of speculation in maritime circles that the real destination is a scrap yard in India or Bangladesh. There is not much of a future for a 57-year-old steamship that has not sailed under its own power in seven years.

"She is one of the great ships," said William Miller, an expert on ocean liners who wrote a book about the Independence. "But she has had her day, absolutely. I would bet you 50 cents she will be sold for scrap."

Admirers of old ships have been circulating rumors and reports on the Internet about the fate of the Independence.

Some, like Eric James, a ship buff from Boston, say the ship is full of toxic material like asbestos and is being taken out of the United States illegally. They say it should be preserved as a memorial to U.S. passenger ships. But there is no formal move to preserve the ship, and once it sailed out the Golden Gate, it was probably too late.

If the Independence is scrapped, it will be a sad end for a ship that was one of the prides of the U.S. flag merchant marine. The Independence was built in Quincy, Mass., by Bethlehem Steel and launched in 1950. The Independence and its sister ship, the Constitution, cost $50 million. Each of the ships could carry 1,000 passengers - 295 in first class - and could make 23 knots.

At first, they sailed from New York to Genoa, Italy, for American Export Lines on a southerly route across the Atlantic passengers called "The Sun Lane." It was a favorite of movie stars and important people.

Former President Harry Truman and his wife sailed on the Independence at least once. But jet planes killed the transatlantic liners, and in the 1960s, the two ships were sold.

The Independence was tricked out like a 1968 hooker with a gaudy pop-art paint job - a pink sunburst rose out of the side of the ship from a pair of huge seductive-looking eyes painted just above the waterline. The theme was Go-Go cruises.

That flopped, and the ship was laid up, sold a couple of times, and finally, in 1980, the Independence began sailing around the Hawaiian Islands.

The ship sailed every Saturday for 21 years on weeklong Hawaiian cruises under the U.S. flag. For a while, the Constitution joined the Independence in Hawaii but it was withdrawn and sank on its way to the scrap yard in 1996.

The Independence carried on alone. It was a good life in Hawaii, and a popular service. As late as 2000, the Independence received the Ship of the Year award from the Steamship Historical Society of America.

But the parent company of American Hawaiian Cruises went bankrupt when tourism dropped after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ship completed its final voyage and sailed from Honolulu, arriving in San Francisco on Nov. 8, 2001. It was the last voyage under its own power.

The ship kicked around the bay and even spent some time in the mothball fleet near Benicia. Finally, in 2004, it was laid up at Pier 70 not far from the baseball park.

Rumors flew: It was going back to sea, it was going to be a floating hotel in New Orleans, or maybe in Dubai. But nothing happened. The Independence just sat, a bit of a landmark. Not every waterfront has an old white ocean liner with two funnels as a backdrop for the edge of the bay.

"I'm going to miss it. It's a good-looking boat," said Capt. Joshua Pryor, who operates the charter boat Ruby out of a pier next to the Ramp restaurant.

Andrew Wong, who was working on the yacht Rampage at the next dock, said the Independence reminded him of home. "I used to see it when I was a kid in Hawaii," he said.

About 10 a.m. Friday, bar pilot Tom Miller, who also handled the Queen Mary 2 when it visited San Francisco last year, slowly guided the old ship out of its berth. He used two tugs - the Delta Deanna and the Delta Linda, to pull the ship out, then turned it so it was facing toward the central bay. He positioned the ship so it could be towed away by the oceangoing tug Pacific Hickory.

The tule fog lay on the bay as thick as mushroom soup, and the Independence kept appearing and disappearing. About 11:30 a.m., the old ship, its sides streaked with rust, the flowers painted around the funnels faded with age and neglect, slowly disappeared into the mist.


Anonymous said…
The only destination that the SS Independence is heading is Alang!!! NCL/Star Cruises are doing the same bag of tricks as they have done with the SS Norway. This is a company that has no clue of what the cruise industry is all about. They seem to think that it's just another business that they can bully everyone that stands in their way, like their casino operations.

It's our hope in the U.S.A that they are not allowed to send our beloved ship, the SS United States to Alang as well.
Anonymous said…
I was on the ship a week prior to it leaving. I can say without a doubt that it was full of asbestos and mercury, as well as heavy metal paints.
Anonymous said…
And NCL wonders why they are doing so poorly and only have one ship, out of three, left in Hawaii- too much nad press, all old clients hate them. The US government should pull their US flag rights, they are exporters of hazardous materials and historic pieces of history.

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