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Plans for the S.S. America were laid down under the first Maritime Commission contract on August 22, 1938. The builder was to be the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company, in Newport News Virginia. The America was designed by noted naval architect William Francis Gibbs and constructed for the United States Lines company.  She was one of the few ocean liners of the time that had interiors designed by women.

The S.S. America was launched on August 31, 1939 and was sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President of the United States.  The America served her owners faithfully for 55 years until she was finally run aground in the Canary Islands in 1994.  To this day she sits stranded, and deteriorating.

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The S.S. America was the flagship of the United States Lines when she commenced her maiden voyage on August 22, 1940. In less than a year, she was called up to assist the allied efforts during World War II.

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Military Call-up

After entry in World War II, the United States military was desperate for transport.  Non-essential civilian ships were often temporarily employed for use by the armed services.

For the S. S. America, the call would come whilst on cruise to Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

In late May of 1941 she was ordered to return to Newport News to be handed over to the Navy.

The America was moored at Norfolk and acquired by the Navy on June 1, 1941, to be used as a troop transport. The ship was renamed the USS West Point. (AP-23, at right)

In 1945 the U.S.S. West Point traveled to Italian and French ports. Its mission was to take part in the “Magic Carpet” voyages, bringing home American troops from the European battlefronts. During her Naval service she would carry over 350,000 troops – the most of any Navy troopship in service during World War II.

The West Point would also carry Red Cross workers, United Nations officials, children, civilians, prisoners of war, and U.S.O. entertainers.

Eventually she was re-titled the America and returned to the civilian sector. In 1952 she was joined by a sister ship run by United States Lines, the S.S. United States. With the introduction of the larger and faster ship in 1952, America’s reign as queen of the US merchant marine was short-lived.

S.S. United States (background) & S.S. America (foreground)

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Post-US service: The Chandris Group

The S.S. America was sold to the Greek-owned Chandris Group in 1964 and renamed “Australis“. At twenty-four years old, she was facing competition from newer, faster ships as well as airplane travel.

The postwar emigrant run from Europe to Australia proved to be a lucrative market for aging passenger ships due to the cheaper cost than air travel. Australis was the last liner providing a regular service from Southampton to Australia and New Zealand until her final voyage on November 18, 1977.

After arriving at Auckland, she was laid up at Timaru on December 23, 1977.

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Embarrassing years under Venture Cruises

Following a brief layup in Timaru New Zealand, Australis was sold to Venture Cruises of New York. Under Venture Cruises ownership, the ship was renamed the S.S. America once again in an attempt to capitalize on the ship’s heritage.

Venture Cruises’ S.S. America set off on her first cruise on June 30, 1978. Her refit, however, had not been completed in time for the maiden voyage.

The ship was reportedly filthy, with piles of soiled linens and worn mattresses strewn about. There were scattered piles of trash and plumbing issues resulted in toilet backups.

Water in overhead pipes leaked. Boards on the floor creaked when you walked on them. Doors wouldn’t shut properly. Along with numerous maintenance issues, visible attempts to spruce the ship up hadn’t fared well either.

Multiple layers of exposed paint was visible on the outer bulkheads, lifeboat davits, and lifeboat gear. Additionally, the public rooms were carelessly repainted, the America’s stainless steel trims now scarred with brush strokes.

Customers reported having discovered cockroaches and rats on the ship as well.

(Click thumbnails for larger images)

Due to overbooking and her incomplete state of repair, a number of passengers immediately mutinied. The captain was forced to return to New York, having only barely just passed the Statue of Liberty. 960 passengers were offloaded upon the ship’s arrival. On a second attempted disembarking later that day, an additional 200 passengers left via tender at Staten Island.

The S.S. America left for a five-day cruise to Nova Scotia on July 3, 1978. When the cruise was over, she was met with $2.5 million in civil claims from passengers. Further issues plagued Venture Cruises and they would eventually scuttle operations. All cruises were cancelled and on July 18th the S.S. America was seized for non-payment of debts.

The America received an inspection score of 6 out of a possible 100 points by the US Public Health Service. On August 28, 1978, the S.S. America was ordered to be sold at auction by the United States district court to satisfy debts.

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Second turn at Chandris Lines

Chandris Lines re-purchased the S.S. America for one million dollars and renamed her Italis (“Italian Lady”).

Chandris had the first funnel (stack) removed and Italis operated under Chandris Lines as a hotel ship from June 23 to July 20, 1979 when she was chartered for the OAU Conference held in Monrovia, Liberia.

Italis then carried out three 14-night cruises from Genoa and Barcelona to Egypt, Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean beginning on July 28, 1979.

At the end of this series of cruises she was finally laid up in Elefsina Bay, Piraeus on September 12, 1979.

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The Beginning of the End

The ship was sold to Intercommerce Corporation in 1980 and renamed the S.S. Noga. Intercommerce planned to convert the ship into a private contractor-operated prison ship. They intended to anchor the ship in Beirut, but this would never happen.

In September 1984 the ship was sold to Silver Moon Ferries and was again renamed, now called Alferdoss (“paradise” in Arabic).

While under the ownership of Silver Moon Ferries, a rusted bilge pipe burst and caused flooding in the engine room and crew quarters.

The ship started to list quickly; her starboard anchor was raised, her port anchor cut away, and she was quickly beached to prevent her from sinking. After the water was pumped out and repairs were made, she was returned to her original location.

In the late 1980s the ship owners made $2 million when they sold the Alferdoss for scrapping. The scrap merchant made an initial deposit of $1 million and began work.

Soon after the demolition of the lifeboats and lifeboat davits, the scrappers defaulted on payments and terminated operations.

The Alferdoss would sit in this state, partially-disassembled, until 1993.

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The Final Chapter: Wrecked at Fuerteventura

In February of 1993 the ship was sold yet again with the intention of being re-fitted as a five-star hotel ship off Phuket, Thailand. Dry-docking at that time revealed that despite years of neglect, her hull was still in remarkably good condition. In August she was renamed the American Star, her propellers were removed and placed on the deck, the funnel and bridge were painted red, and ladders were welded to her starboard side.

On New Year’s Eve of 1993, the American Star left Greece for the final time, towed by Ukrainian tugboat Neftegaz 67; the one-hundred day tow began.

The American Star and Neftegaz 67 ran into a thunder storm in the Atlantic. The tow lines broke and six men were sent aboard the American Star to reattach the emergency tow lines. This proved unsuccessful. Two other towboats were called to assist Neftegaz 67. On January 17, the crew aboard the American Star was rescued by helicopter and the ship was left adrift.

On January 18, the ship ran aground off the west coast of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.

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While authorities debated their options, the ship was left to her own devices. Storm activity sent violent seas to attack the stranded vessel. The waves were brutal; within 48 hours of running aground, the pounding surf broke the ship in two just past the funnel. The American Star was declared a total loss on July 6, 1994.

 The stern collapsed completely to port and sank in 1996, while the bow continued to remain intact.

 

  

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Collapse

In November 2005, the port side of the bow section collapsed, which caused the liner’s remains to assume a much sharper list and the funnel to detach and fall into the ocean.

The collapse of the port side also caused the hull to begin to break up and by October 2006, the wreck had almost completely collapsed onto its port side.

In April 2007 the starboard side finally collapsed causing the wreck to break in half and fall into the sea. Throughout 2007 what little remained had been slowly disappearing beneath the waves. As of February 2010, only about 15 – 20 feet of the bow remained above the water.

2004:

2005:

2006:

2007:

2008:

2009:

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[map_embed latitude=”28.346077″ longitude=”-14.180442″ zoom=”4″ margin_top=”-25px” margin_bottom=”15″ border=”yes” styled=”no” animation=”left-to-right” animation_delay=”400″ height=”250″]

Overhead Satellite view & Map:  click here

(update 2013: Sadly the S.S. America is no longer visible on Google Maps)

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S.S. America Memorabilia

Reader-submitted materials memorializing the S.S. America. Have a piece of her history to share? Let us know! Don’t have a camera or scanner? No problem. Send it to us, we’ll digitize & return your materials to you.

• 1958 Manifest (courtesy S-I reader Thomas Bruce)

Mr. Bruce was kind enough to share with us a copy of the S.S. America ship manifest from its journey between March 16-18th, 1958.

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

SS-America-manifest-1  SS-America-manifest-2  SS-America-manifest-3

SS-America-manifest-4 SS-America-manifest-5  SS-America-manifest-6

SS-America-manifest-7  SS-America-manifest-8  SS-America-manifest-9

SS-America-manifest-10  SS-America-manifest-11  SS-America-manifest-12

SS-America-manifest-13  SS-America-manifest-14

• 1962 S.S. America Gala Menu (courtesy S-I reader Tony Penn)

onboard-america-tpenn-1962-smallMr. Penn shares with us the Gala dinner menu from his 1962 journey aboard the S.S. America. Tony was a young teenager at the time when this photo was taken during a lifeboat drill procedure (at right).

“I still fondly recall scouring every inch the crew would allow me.”

For full-scan .pdf of the menu, click here. Viewing images below:

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

ss-america-1962-gala-1 ss-america-1962-gala-2

ss-america-1962-gala-3 ss-america-1962-gala-4

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Another Sometimes-Interesting shipwreck article: The World Discoverer

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76 COMMENTS

  1. hey, this is a really good piece of information. I recall stumbling about something like this before, this is really excellent stuff.

  2. Hello, I was wondering if anyone has or knows where to get the ships manifesto or passenger list for 1948 My father and his two brother and my grandparents came over on this ship to America in 1948 they were in the !st class section
    any info would be a blessing to me, thank you

  3. I enjoyed this post. Sleek and beautiful ship, eerily beautiful in repose. I recall seeing another United States Line ship; the more famous United States in NY Harbour in 1959. You write that this ship was meant to counter Cunard’s Titanic. It sank in 1912, and in any case was not a Cunarder but a ship of the White Star Line. It would suffice it to say that the America ship was built to provide an American counter to the many Cunard liners period.

  4. Amazing story of a great ocean liner. It’s a pity that many beautiuful ships are left to die in that way. Irresponsibility (and stypidity) is, by far, the stronger storm that destroys those emblematic constructions.
    In the area between the northern part of Salamina and Aspropurgos-Elefsina, west of Athens-Piraeus (Greece), there are some abandoned cruise ships.
    One of them can be seen from googlearth, cause is has collapsed her portside.
    Maybe one day I’ll inform you about some greek wrecks I know.

  5. My family returned to the USA from a military deployment in Europe via voyage on this once grand vessel, into New York City arriving May 1962. Never would I have imagined what an inglorious fate awaited the good S.S. America, as I ran around the decks back then, But I was younger then too. Fifty years younger now to be exact. And after viewing the snaps, my bones feel even older….I can still float though, so I got that going for me …heh heh…!

  6. I have just finished reading the novel “Maggie’s Breakfast, by Gabriel Walsh. The author sailed from Dublin to Newyork on the SS America so thought I would take a look at it and read this interesting history and, what do you know, my other took a cruise from NZ to Southhampton, in 1966 and travelled on the Australis. Small world.

  7. Read with great interest your well-written account of the life and sad death of S.S. America. I sailed aboard her in the 50’s with my parents from New York to France. What an adventure that was. She was elegant, smooth and carried a staff that understood service and good manners. Even as a young boy I knew this was an exceptional ship. I did not know of her decline after so many ownerships, and was especially unhappy to see the pictures of her final days. She deserved a much more dignified passing. Thanks for the good memories, however.

  8. my “America” has gone forever. i weep! cruel tears of her demise, for having been born on this wonderful vessel i consider her mine.

    • My father was with the 201st General Hospital during WWII. He traveled to Liverpool in October 1944 the SS West Point, the converted America. Does any one have any information about the journey?

      • Thanks for posting requests in this space. I’d encourage all to do so. When those who have these items reach out to me I will gladly post them here to update & centralize any information on this ship and her journeys.

        Thanks everyone!

      • Walter, I am looking for the same info. My late father in law was discharged from 201st General Hospital as Corporal according to his d/c papers. We know he sailed first to England, but thought he landed with the 2nd wave on D-day in Normandy. He was not medical, he was possibly MP or some sort of driver/mechanic/engineer? We have no one to ask about this. Hopefully, someone on this site can help.

  9. durinng oct 1943 i was a lab tech with 189th gen hospital and we sailed from boston to liverpool eng and on to cherbourg fr . we set up in carentain fr. i. later in reims fr when thewar ended in april . we were a complment of 450 men and nurses. it took four and a half days to make the trip — wil never forget it. regards to all whoever new ssamerica.at

  10. My family and I went to Australia on the Australis in 1966, I was 10 and we had a brilliant time on board, it’s sad to see what became of it.

  11. In 1954, when I was 11, my mother sister and I sailed on the SS America from New York to Germany … I recall docking in a port in France and then a train from Frankfurt. We spent the summer in Germany visiting my parents’ relatives. My mother loved the “Captain’s Dinner” and dressing up in her best clothes. She got very seasick and all the chairs and tables were tied together because of a storm. I believe the trip took 12 days or so. I have a picture of the 3 of us in the dining room. Nice article which brought back so many memories. Sad to see the deterioration of that ship but nothing ever stays the same … impermanence is part of our existence.

  12. My sister Mary Neary and I Catherine Neary davenport imigrated to the u s march 31st 1949 we boarded the S S America in South Hampton and landed in New York City what a great 6 days the swimming pool was in the hold great food such luxury met lots of nice people

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