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Home > Abandoned - Explained, Atlantic, Creepy, History, Maritime > The Story of the S.S. America

The Story of the S.S. America


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 would be called up the assist the allied efforts during World War II.

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Military Call-up

World War II saw the United States desperate for military transport. While on a cruise to Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the America was called up to service. 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, below)

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 & 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.

ss-america-12

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 section 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:

Overhead Satellite view & Map:  click here

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1958 S.S. America Manifest

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

(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

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Another Sometimes-Interesting shipwreck article: The World Discoverer

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  1. Massy
    August 27, 2011 at 19:57

    Really interesting blog, keep up the good work!

  2. Huminski63
    September 1, 2011 at 14:34

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

  3. September 4, 2011 at 00:28

    Wow, what a story!

  4. Erica Eberhard
    February 1, 2012 at 13:39

    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

  5. Highgate
    March 11, 2012 at 09:37

    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.

  6. Marc Purello
    April 3, 2012 at 09:07

    This is/was a worst fate than being scrapped.

  7. Marc Purello
    April 3, 2012 at 09:08

    Sad

  8. Stelios
    April 17, 2012 at 04:18

    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.

  9. Fernando Vidal
    April 17, 2012 at 10:14

    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…!

    • January 4, 2014 at 21:18

      I was on the SS America Friday Feb 16-19,1962 I am 56 now. I want to go to Canary Islands to see her.

      • Fernando Vidal
        January 5, 2014 at 10:39

        I also would like to go see her as well Diana, and would love to the pic Michelle took !!!!

      • May 24, 2014 at 18:19

        SSAustralis Facebook page. Brilliant informative and almost 1000 ex passengers and crew. Feel free to join.

  10. April 18, 2012 at 21:56

    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.

  11. Jeff Jones
    April 27, 2012 at 12:37

    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.

  12. RK
    May 21, 2012 at 10:41

    This is fantastic. Thanks.

  13. a badenhop
    July 21, 2012 at 00:27

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

  14. Bee
    August 10, 2012 at 09:41

    Like this.

  15. Lynn Shoup
    August 17, 2012 at 08:35

    My Dad was on this ship during WWII!

    • DONNIE
      September 9, 2013 at 12:27

      SO WAS MINE.HOW SAD !!!

    • Walter Spector
      June 5, 2014 at 17:16

      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?

      • June 11, 2014 at 14:54

        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!

      • Beth
        September 22, 2014 at 22:16

        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.

  16. meschf @gmail.com 2
    August 17, 2012 at 11:38

    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

  17. maggiemayormaynot
    December 31, 2012 at 11:49

    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.

  18. February 17, 2013 at 07:44

    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.

    • February 20, 2013 at 09:14

      Thanks for stopping by Leslie, I enjoyed your story. Glad to hear you have positive memories, I’ve noticed most have had positive recollections. Speaks well of the ship and its crew.

  19. Antione Swink
    February 20, 2013 at 00:02

    Very interesting subject, thanks for posting.

  20. March 17, 2013 at 15:53

    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

    • March 20, 2013 at 11:55

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences Catherine! Sounds like you enjoyed your trip. :)

  21. Clement Kohler
    June 2, 2013 at 16:40

    Great research… wonderful information…I shipped off to Portugal from Brazil as a 5 year old with my family on the Pasteur in 1965… wonder what ever happened to her… she was a sight to see before the 707’s came into play. Have any info on her? Loved to play in the galleys and make friends with the crew… never forget it.

  22. June 22, 2013 at 23:43

    My friend, James Casey arrived in the USA Buffalo NY 14, Aug 1949. He will be 90 years old this August 15th, 2013. I printed out a copy of the SS America, but would love to be able to get a ship manifest for his birthday present. He is not family, just a very dear friend. Can anyone direct me to the appropriate place.

    • rich
      September 1, 2013 at 18:33

      Came over from the UK in January 1956 with my family. Manifest can be found on ancestry.com

  23. Karen Edmonds
    July 9, 2013 at 19:24

    In July of 1957 my dad, mom, brother and myself traveled from Europe back to the United States on the S S America…..the Captain at that time was Captain Frederick Fender U.S.N.R..

  24. Lorna Gilbert
    September 14, 2013 at 21:48

    My parents and I returned to the U.S. from Germany on the S.S. America in January 1955; it was one of the most exciting experiences of my entire life. The sea was rough for much of the crossing, and many of the adults were seasick; velvet ropes were strung all over the place to assist people walking across the large public rooms. I had connected with some kids my age, and for some reason we were not that affected. Whenever any of us felt mildly queasy, we would take the elevator down to the swimming pool and lounge area, close to the bottom of the ship, where the pitch and roll were not so noticeable. However, the water in the swimming pool was just one huge wave that hit against one wall and broke like surf over and over. The food was fabulous–and available any time of day or night. We also discovered that people’s pets were boarded in a kennel on the very top deck, so we would stop in to visit the dogs and cats. The public rooms were all exquisitely decorated, and there were a number of organized entertainments: movies, bingo, music, floor shows, etc. Famous people on that voyage were crooner Rudy Vallee, Broadway and movie actress Gwen Verdon, and western movie star Scott Brady. It was like a fairy tale–unforgettable.

    • May 7, 2014 at 11:53

      Lorna, thanks for sharing your story! Apologies for the late reply, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience. Your insight is not the kind I can gain from reading articles – so thank you again for that. Cheers.

  25. Ian R. Lamb< Sr.
    October 16, 2013 at 21:17

    My mother and myself came to the US in Feb. 1947 on the S.S. America. We sailed from England, my father was in the military and that”s where they met. Would like to find manifest.

    • May 7, 2014 at 11:52

      Hello Ian, apologies for the belated reply. Thanks for reading. I’m going to see if I can start collecting ship manifests to have them here for reference. I’m reaching out to those who have copies to see if they would be willing to share in the spirit of creating a central archive. Stay tuned!

  26. michelle fletcher
    December 28, 2013 at 14:53

    I visited my sister in Fuerteventura and visited this ship wreck, was down a long windy dirt track, i even have a photo of it that I brought in my bathroom

    • January 4, 2014 at 21:24

      Hi I’m Diana Sailed on SS America 1962 @ 5y/o I’d love to see the pic you took of her shipwrecked

  27. derek howe
    December 29, 2013 at 06:59

    we stood and looked at this piece of history and it felt like you had to go on board but at least 10 divers have been lost swimming under and trying to board her

  28. January 12, 2014 at 09:32

    These are all fascinating discoveries. Looking forward to find out more of the outcomes.

  29. Tom
    May 2, 2014 at 09:24

    My Dad, Mom, and I sailed on this ship, from Germany to US, March 16th, 1958, I was 5 years old.

    • May 7, 2014 at 11:50

      Wow Tom, that’s great to hear you were a part of it’s history. Do you remember much (if anything) about your trip?

      • Tom
        May 7, 2014 at 13:32

        Hi, I have no problem will share it, But I got to find the menu. it’s in a box some where and I got lots of boxes. I don’t remember a damn second of trip, wish I did, and No pictures parents couldn’t afford camera on Sgt. pay. only thing I remember was said Mom was in bed most of trip due to sea sickness. We went from Munich where Mom and I was born via Frankfurt by train, they said I threw up in middle of train station, thats all they would talk about. Unfortunately dad died ’99 and Mom is in a home for dementia. doesn’t even know me any more. nasty disease.

        • May 13, 2014 at 19:30

          Ugh, sorry to hear about your mother Tom. I have a family member struggling with Alzheimers. That and dementia are some of the worst things to have to witness happening to loved ones.

          Thanks for the emails with the ship information. I’ll try to get that up shortly. And thanks for sharing your personal story. :)

  30. Tom
    May 2, 2014 at 09:34

    I have the 1st class passenger list for march 16th, 1958, also a menu for one of the days of crossing.

    • May 7, 2014 at 11:51

      Tom, would you be willing to share this with me? I would like to add it to the article – with credit to you for the contribution, of course. If you don’t mind the arrangement please email me: sometimes.interesting (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

  31. May 25, 2014 at 19:25

    Reblogged this on WorldWright's ….

  32. Mary
    May 26, 2014 at 17:46

    Could this be the ship my father was on in WWll? He left Ft. Dix for India in August of 1943. My mother’s notes state he sailed on The American, a luxury liner, used to move troops during the war.

  33. May 28, 2014 at 09:15

    Thanks to Tom for sending his copies from the ship’s 1958 journeys. I have uploaded them and added them to the end of the article. If any other readers have copies of S.S. America memorabilia, I would be happy to host them here and give full credit. Just let me know, thanks. And thanks again Tom. :)

  34. Roibina R Sloss
    May 28, 2014 at 14:42

    my grandfather Neil Macpherson was I believe chief steward on S S America around 1950`s I remember him visiting us in Southport when he docked in UK. he had dual
    nationality and returned to his native Scotland to retire.
    Roina

  35. Pat Zimmermann
    May 29, 2014 at 18:29

    My family and I (age 8) traveled from NY to LeHarve in 1950. On board was Ralph Edwards. My brother (age 11) left a note under his door saying he wanted to meet him. He responded and invited us to his stateroom for a meeting.
    Also on board was Hildegard.
    I remember my mother packed a long formal gown and my dad brought a tux for the captain’s dinner. (not sure but I think the captain’s last name was Anderson)
    Children’s party was a dress up affair too. Kids all posed for a picture which I still have.
    I also still have a First Class dinner menu dated May 20, 1950. Interested?

    • June 11, 2014 at 15:07

      Hello Pat, yes! Would you mind sending it to me? I would post it here with credit to you for the contribution, thanks. :) Email: sometimes.interesting(at)gmail(dot)com

  36. Melissa
    June 5, 2014 at 22:24

    You got me in tears!
    What an amazing but sad story!

  37. Tanja
    July 2, 2014 at 09:41

    my dad immigrated from germany to the usa in 1962 I am looking for a log ..crew and passenger list.. any pictures from that sailing… I could use any help I can get! :) working on my family tree and stuck! please email me evilhomersgirl@gmail.com

    My dad then sent money when he had enough for a ticken for my mom … she came from germany on the SS UNITED STATES her sistership and wanted to also ask the same information if anyone has any on this journey from Bremerhave Germany to NY HELP!!

  38. Erna Brewer
    July 19, 2014 at 13:00

    My mom and I immigrated to the United states on the SS America in the fall of 1952. We encountered a storm. I was in the nursery (I was 5 years old) I remember being so scared when water came through the porthole. I wonder if there is a listing of names available. My mom’s name was Marie Bokr. I have a picture of myself with some of the children on the SS America.

  39. Elsie allen
    September 11, 2014 at 04:46

    I just ran across the passenger list and menus of the maiden voyage on August 10 1940 is there a museum for them and are they worth anything.

    • September 15, 2014 at 17:03

      Elsie, thanks for stopping by. I am sure these items would be of interest to those with relatives who might have been passengers on that voyage.

      If you are willing and able to share digital copies of these items, I would be happy to host them here for all to see and reference. Thank you!

  40. Amy
    October 16, 2014 at 07:36

    My dad came from Scotland to New York on the SS America landing in NY on March 11, 1950.

  41. November 27, 2014 at 14:16

    I don’t know why but these stories of once gallant buildings and ships just decaying into the earth always make me a little sad. But I suspect that’s the point….

    • December 5, 2014 at 20:09

      Definitely a little bit of that, I agree. On the other hand, part of the mission here is to memorialize and celebrate the history behind this stuff. I look at these posts as almost a celebration of its life, really. At least that’s what I am aiming for. Thanks Noelle, have a great weekend. :)

      • December 6, 2014 at 07:39

        Well clearly they aren’t sad enough to dissuade me from reading. I never read anything that makes me feel bad. I love the history and frankly, some of the bizarre human drama in many of your pieces. They always seem to highlight our peculiar nature to screw up a good thing.

  1. April 10, 2014 at 20:57
  2. April 30, 2014 at 09:35
  3. August 14, 2014 at 20:07

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