Built in 1950, the golden age of the luxury liner, the S.S. Independence was a 1,000 passenger ship specifically designed for high-speed, long distance cruising on the open sea.
The Indy, and her identical twin sister ship, the S.S. Constitution, worked the six-week route from New York to a variety of ports in the Mediterranean. She was a first-class ship, transporting 2 presidents–Truman and Reagan–as well as numerous film and TV stars.
By the 1970s her steam engines were already hopelessly outdated and incredibly expensive to operate. Eventually, she was refitted and demoted to low speed tours of the Hawaiian Islands, where she served until 2001.
She was decommissioned from her island hopping duties when American tourism ground to a halt in the months following 9/11. She was laid up and left to rust at various locations in the San Francisco Bay Area for 7 years, a ghost ship, shrouded in mystery.
I was lucky enough to wrangle access for night photography a few times in the last week the Indy was in San Francisco through some connections at the shipyard. Because her time in San Francisco was so short, we stayed aboard until 3AM on the last stormy night, slipping outside between the showers to shoot the wet decks in the howling wind. The atmosphere aboard the ship that night was palpable, the warren of identical hallways below deck were as dark as dark can be. Every moment aboard her was an unforgettably surreal and spooky experience.
She was towed from her berth in San Francisco 2/8/08 by an ocean-going tug, the beginning of her final journey. The official word: she was to be towed to Singapore for refit, but most people in the know said it was the breaker beaches of India for the last (barely) seaworthy ’50s American liner.
Six months later she was being held in the Marianas Islands by the EPA pending an investigation on the legality of her sale and the environmental impact of her breaking. She disappeared for a time, only to turn up, run aground in India’s Gulf of Cambay in June 2010, where she broke in half and sank in the thirty-foot tidal swells.