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Historic American Victory ship in Port Tampa Bay has reopened for tours

The World War II cargo ship is limiting capacity and restricting some of its interactive elements.

The SS American Victory ship — one of only four operational World War II merchant cargo ships left in the United States — has reopened for tours in Tampa.

Following guidance from state and public health officials, the American Victory ship and museum reopened to the public on Friday. The ship will observe new procedures and safeguards to provide social distancing. Interactive exhibits are restricted, and capacity will be limited throughout the day. Groups will be limited to eight people at a time.

"Spacious cargo holds and unique open air spaces allow for proper adherence to these new guidelines, and we encourage guests to be responsible and continue looking out for one another,” said Thomas Procopio, the ship’s operations manager, in an email about its Friday opening.

The World War II cargo ship docked at Port Tampa Bay is still working on a plan to bring back its popular Halloween attraction called Undead in the Water, in which the ship is overrun by zombies.

One of the cannons on the American Victory ship is now open for tours. The ship is docked behind the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. [JIM REED | Times (2012)]

In the meantime, historic tours have resumed.

“The ship has seen a lot in her 75 years of service, and while this is very different, she answered the call again,” said Bill Kuzmick, president of the American Victory. “We’ve got a proud volunteer crew, many of whom are veterans themselves, and it’s certainly not lost on them that our reopening coincides with the 75th Anniversary of WWII’s VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). I hope we can offer a similar sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps as we start to normalize.”

After fine-tuning operations to ensure a safe experience, the ship’s staff and Board of Trustees voted to open its doors, Procopio said.

“Our crew has done a phenomenal job of creating a safe and sanitary shipboard environment that allows for social distancing and plenty of hand washing and sanitizing stations," said Kuzmick. "People need a little break right now and we are excited to be able to offer that to them.”

Related: The Florida Aquarium will open in Tampa with limited crowds

It’s a large ship, so getting it ready to reopen took a lot of work, volunteers said.

“It’s an operational ship, and we had quite a lot to accomplish with a very limited crew,” said Philip Luoma, Army veteran and American Victory ship volunteer. “We took what was a bad situation and tried to make the most of it by working on some long-delayed projects, and I’m proud to have been able to represent those volunteers who couldn’t be here.”

Built in 1945, the American Victory voyaged around the world delivering crucial cargo during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Today, the ship is one of only four operational World War II merchant steamships in the U.S. Since the American Victory arrived in Tampa in September 1999, volunteers have invested more than 1 million hours to restore, maintain and operate the vessel.

“Reconnecting with our community is critical right now, and we’re proud to offer a safe space where visitors can explore a living and breathing WWII ship and museum,” said Procopio.

Normal daily hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The ship will monitor hours of operation moving forward. Admission is $10; $5 for veterans. The ship is located in the Water Street District, directly behind the Florida Aquarium at 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Check the ship’s website, americanvictory.org, for more details.

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