Businessman regains custody of cruise ship

February 12, 1992|By John H. Gormley Jr. | John H. Gormley Jr.,Staff Writer

Seattle businessman Richard H. Hadley won back custody of the historic passenger liner S.S. United States yesterday and said he wants to move it to a pier in Baltimore.

The rusting and asbestos-ridden ship has been out of service for more than 20 years.

It was seized by federal marshals in October because United States Cruises Inc., a company controlled by Mr. Hadley, stopped paying rent on the ship's berth in Newport News, Va.

The seizure came in response to a suit filed by Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX Transportation Inc., which owns the pier where the ship is berthed. CSX claims it is owed about $300,000 in rent and expenses.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Norfolk returned the ship to the custody of United States Cruises after Mr. Hadley pledged through his lawyer to raise $200,000 by Monday to move the vessel to Baltimore, according to an account of the court hearing by the Associated Press.

Reached in Hawaii yesterday, Mr. Hadley confirmed the plan. "Certainly that's the hope," he said, declining to provide further details. "I'll do it when I'm ready. Then you guys can write about it," he said.

The ship would be moved to a pier controlled by Kurt Iron & Metal Co. Inc. on Childs Street near the former Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. property in the Fairfield section of Southeast Baltimore.

Kurt officials could not be reached for comment. According to an account by the Associated Press of yesterday's court hearing in Norfolk, Va., the move to Baltimore was first mentioned when U.S. District Court Judge Robert G. Doumar awarded custody of the ship to United States Cruises despite his doubts that Mr. Hadley could come up with the money.

At one point the judge questioned whether Mr. Hadley's plan was based on the hope of buying a winning lottery ticket.

"If this court is willing to turn over this vessel, then someone has to take possession," the judge said. "To me, it's like having a tiger. I can't let it loose upon the community."

But he decided to release the ship to United States Cruises and to relinquish jurisdiction of the case to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Seattle, where United States Cruises, the legal owner of the ship, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday.

The bankruptcy issue forced the court to postpone a public auction of the ship, which had been scheduled for Monday

The prime bidders were expected to be people interested only in the scrap value of the ship that in 1952 set a trans-Atlantic speed record that no other passenger liner has broken.

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