NEW YORK — The SS United States, the rusting, historic ocean liner that has been docked in South Philadelphia since 1996, may sail again after luxury travel company Crystal Cruises signed a purchase option for the ship.

The nonprofit, Washington-based S.S. United States Conservancy, which owns the ship, announced its plans for the ocean liner at a New York City news conference Thursday, saying the vessel would be based in New York City but would travel the world.

“The SS United States is ready to make history again,” said Susan Gibbs, the conservancy’s executive director.

The option agreement runs for nine months, during which the cruise line will conduct extensive checks and surveys of the vessel. If anything might sink the deal, the company CEO said, it would be environmental issues.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been found on the ship and would have to be removed. If that and other fixes can be done, and a renovation accomplished, the ship could return to the seas as early as 2018, said CEO Edie Rodriguez.

The cost of renovating the ship could climb as high as $800 million.

The announcement – on a stage flanked by flags and flowers – was something of a surprise. Until now, the conservancy spoke of the ship being reborn as a combination hotel, museum and retail space.

Crystal stepped forward only in the past couple of months with the idea of a reborn passenger ship. The company will foot the $60,000 monthly bill of maintaining the ship during the feasibility study.

“Together, we beat the odds,” Gibbs told 100 ship fans, conservancy members and reporters. “Together we refused to give up.”

The setting on Pier 88 offered a bright contrast to an overcast day by the Hudson River.

“This was ‘the’ way to travel,” Rodriguez said. “We aim to make her that way again.”

She noted that the undertaking was perhaps unprecedented, but pledged, “Failure is not an option. … We’re ever the optimists.”

The ship has been docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River, across from IKEA, for 20 years as the conservancy grappled with money problems. Last year, it set a save-it-or-scrap-it deadline for the ship, but then announced in November that it had raised $600,000 to prevent the vessel from being junked.

The ship, which could carry 2,000 passengers when it first sailed in 1952, served as a trans-Atlantic ocean liner from New York to ports in Europe until it was retired in 1969.

The Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises is a worldwide luxury line with ports in Asia, Africa and the Panama Canal.


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