For sale: brand new cruise ship. Cost: pride of a nation

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The Independent US

Wanted: Buyers for brand new cruise liner. Features include swimming pool, spa, cabaret lounge, 840-seat theatre and 950 rooms, most with balcony. Additional incentive: purchaser will salvage American pride. Small print: vessel not finished, not able to float yet.

Wanted: Buyers for brand new cruise liner. Features include swimming pool, spa, cabaret lounge, 840-seat theatre and 950 rooms, most with balcony. Additional incentive: purchaser will salvage American pride. Small print: vessel not finished, not able to float yet.

The ship – in case you are interested – stands in a boatyard in Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico. It will be seaworthy once the bow and stern are complete. Pieces of a sister liner are lying about, but nothing has yet been assembled.

What the Pascagoula shipyard contains is a symbol of government munificence gone awry. Two years ago, members of Congress agreed to give loan guarantees to the struggling yard's scheme to build two cruise liners. It helped that Pascagoula is the home town of Trent Lott, the Republican Senate minority leader; and that his father once worked at the yard.

They even called the plan "Project America". After all, 50 years have passed since the United States built a cruise liner. That sort of work seems to go these days to Italy, Germany and South-east Asia.

So the pork – as they call taxpayer dollars diverted to the home constituencies of members of Congress – was doled out to American Classic Voyages, the company chosen to build the liners.To ensure all went well, Congress engineered the deal so that the ships would share a monopoly of the Hawaiian cruise market.

But American Classic Voyages has gone bust, the plan has come unstuck and the half-made boat was named the "USS Pork" yesterday by The New York Times.

The cost to taxpayers so far is $187m (£125m). The Northrop Grumman company is still working on the vessel, but if the government is ever to recoup the money, a buyer must be found.

The cruise companies, however, are still recovering from 11 September and are not looking for new stock. And the US Navy was unimpressed by a suggestion that the half-finished ship could be used as a floating barracks.

Even the backers of the project agree that the time is fast approaching when the boat may have to be cut into pieces and the steel sold for scrap.

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