Scrap-yard owner confirms offering home for liner

February 13, 1992|By John H. Gormley Jr. | John H. Gormley Jr.,Staff Writer

Kurt A. Ellis, president of Kurt Iron & Metal Co. Inc., knows that others have come to regret baby-sitting the S.S. United States. But Mr. Ellis says that he is more than willing to provide the ship a place to stay if Richard H. Hadley, the ship's owner, wants to bring the historic passenger liner to Baltimore.

Mr. Ellis, who operates a demolition and scrap-metal company on property once part of the Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock yard in Fairfield, confirmed yesterday that he and Mr. Hadley had come to an understanding.

"He's interested in bringing it here. We're interested in having it brought here to be berthed," Mr. Ellis said. But he cautioned that the agreement with Mr. Hadley is not binding. "If he doesn't want to do it, he doesn't have to," Mr. Ellis said.

Bringing the ship to Baltimore would be another twist in the melodrama surrounding the vessel.

The S.S. United States was nearly sold at public auction this week to raise funds to pay off the ship's debts, which include about $200,000 that CSX Transportation Inc. says it is owed in rent for the pier in Newport News, Va., where the ship now rests. The transportation company says it is also out $120,000 it paid federal marshals to seize the ship.

The S.S. United States was once the pride of U.S. passenger liners. In 1952, on its maiden voyage, the ship broke the speed record for crossing the Atlantic. Unable to compete with trans-Atlantic jets, however, the United States was laid up in Hampton Roads, Va., in 1969 and has not sailed under its own power since.

For more than a decade, Mr. Hadley has been trying to resurrect the former passenger liner as a cruise ship. That dream seemed finished when CSX ordered the ship seized. But a federal judge in Norfolk returned the ship to Mr. Hadley's custody Tuesday, after Mr. Hadley said he hoped to raise $200,000 by next week to move the ship to Baltimore.

That's where the 29-year-old Mr. Ellis enters the picture. He has the pier -- if Mr. Hadley can get the ship there. He says he is willing to take the ship -- even though he knows United States Cruises Inc., a company controlled by Mr. Hadley, didn't pay CSX Transportation for its pier.

And last week, United States Cruises, the legal owner of the ship, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Seattle.

Mr. Ellis figures that under the supervision of the bankruptcy courts, United States Cruises will have to keep current with its bills.

"Now that he's in Chapter 11, he has to do things differently," Mr. Ellis said. "I'm pretty confident about everything that's been negotiated."

Mr. Ellis is in the business of demolishing ships and buildings and salvaging the metal for scrap. But the S.S. United States would not be coming to his yard to be scrapped. It would only be parked until Mr. Hadley could proceed with his plans to rehabilitate the ship. "It's coming here strictly to be berthed, . . . that's all," he said.

The S.S. United States is almost 1,000 feet long -- longer than the pier Mr. Ellis has in mind for it. A ship that large with such an illustrious history is likely to attract a lot of attention, more attention than Mr.

Ellis suspected at first. "I didn't think people would make that big a deal out of it," he said. "I'm not looking for a lot of attention."

He could get his wish since considerable doubt exists about whether Mr. Hadley will be able to raise the $200,000 that might be needed to tow the ship to Baltimore.

While CSX Transportation would like to collect what it is owed, the company would be happy if Mr. Hadley moved the ship so it can get its pier back. "At this point we don't object to his moving the vessel to Baltimore," said Lynn Johnson, a spokesman with CSX Transportation. "That's what we've been trying to get him to do for about a year."

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