MS Freewinds - Scientology's Flagship
ranwhenparked last edited by ranwhenparked
During the 1960s, Swedish-based Lion Ferry was looking to open a new passenger-auto ferry route between Harwich, UK and Bremerhaven, West Germany and needed a pair of new ships to operate it. They turned to the Wartsila shipyard in Turku, Finland, who was already finishing up construction on two ships of the exact specifications Lion was looking for – the sisters Finnhansa and Finnpartner for Finnlines' Finland-East Germany-Sweden service, both delivered in 1966.
Lion Ferry arranged to order two more ships of roughly the same design, with some modifications for their own tastes. The first of the two new sisters, Prins Hamlet, was delivered in May of 1966, with the second to follow a year later. However, the first summer season in 1966 saw much lower than anticipated passenger demand on the new Harwich-Bremerhaven route, and Lion quickly determined that they wouldn't need the second ship after all, canceling construction when it was about half finished.
Enter Commodore Cruise Line – a new startup cruise line based in Florida, intended to compete directly with the highly successful, new Norwegian Caribbean Lines, then dominating the Eastern Caribbean cruise market with their modern Sunward, itself a repurposed European ferry. Sunward stood in sharp contrast to the converted (or not at all converted) transatlantic liners used by most operators in the Caribbean, being sleek, modern, and designed to optimize open deck space for fun in the sun. Commodore knew they needed a comparably modern ship to compete effectively, and took over the contract for Prins Hamlet's unfinished sister ship. The deal involved the large Swedish shipping company Wallenius Lines, an investor in Commodore, purchasing the ship, then chartering it to Commodore at a favorable rate.
Construction was too far along to make huge changes, but Commodore were able to work in enough modifications to properly adapt the ferry to full-time use as a dedicated cruise ship. The new vessel was delivered in November, 1968 as MS Boheme, measuring 10,328 gross tons and 440 ft. long, powered by a 14,000hp pair of Wartsila-Sulzer diesels driving twin screws for a speed of 20 knots. Accommodations were for 540 passengers, and the ship was initially registered in West Germany and crewed with West German officers and crew.
Boheme became the first ship to offer year-round 7-night cruises from Miami, sailing round trip to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. During her first decade of service, Boheme experienced constant problems with her HVAC system, designed for English Channel ferry service and severely overtaxed in the Caribbean heat. During 1980, Boheme was extensively refurbished by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, West Germany with much of her mechanical systems overhauled or replaced. In 1981, Commodore was acquired by Sally Line of Finland, and Boheme was re-registered in Panama, with the West German staff being replaced by Finnish officers and Filipino crew.
Boheme left the Commodore fleet for the first time in 1982, with a nearly year-long charter to Saitecin Cruises of Brazil. Following that charter, Boheme underwent another major overhaul and refurbishment at Blohm & Voss between 1983-1984, then returned to service with Commodore out of Miami, on a new route calling at Haiti, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Mexico. The new schedule required the ship to run at full speed nearly all the time to maintain, which lead to overstressing of the powertrain and frequent mechanical failures.
Boheme left Commodore for the second time in 1984, being chartered to SeaEscape Cruises (the successor company to the failed Scandinavian World Cruises) for Florida-Bahamas ferry service, returning to the Commodore fleet again in 1985, now sailing out of Key West to Jamaica, Mexico, and St. Petersburg. This final itinerary would be brief, as in September of 1986, Boheme was sold to San Donato Properties Corporation, a front company for the Church of Scientology.
During the 1960s and '70s, Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, had lived aboard ships almost exclusively, sailing constantly around the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Northern Europe, on a fleet crewed by Scientology's uniformed, militaristic Sea Organization (Sea Org). It was during this period at sea that Hubbard researched the highest levels of Scientology and developed the curricula for the highest Operating Thetan (OT) courses, the highest of which (as far as has been made available so far) OT VIII, was to be given exclusively at sea, and kept classified from church membership until a suitable training vessel could be acquired.
A nonprofit organization called the Flag Ship Trust was established by members of the International Association of Scientologists in December of 1985 in order to fund the purchase of a ship, ultimately raising the $10 million necessary to acquire Boheme. Having reached the limits of what he could accomplish while confined within his human body, Hubbard made the freewill choice to exit his physical body in January of 1986, in order to continue his research unencumbered. Prior to his
deathleaving the Earth as a disembodied Thetan for further study in the Cosmos, Hubbard had been shown photographs and plans of Boheme, and had given his personal blessing to the purchase of that particular ship as the ideal training vessel for OT VIII and other high level Scientology courses.
Following the sale, Boheme was renamed Freewinds and underwent an extensive rebuilding program, during which much of the interiors were gutted and reconfigured into large seminar rooms, conference facilities, auditing rooms, offices, and the like, in addition to retaining passenger cabins and most of the usual cruise ship amenities. Conversion work was carried out under a veil of secrecy, in port in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles by teams of (mostly unskilled) Scientology volunteers flown in from around the world, to plans drawn up by British architect Lawrence Woodcraft. When Woodcraft flew out to inspect progress in person in 1987, he was horrified to find that the ship was packed to the gills with fireproof blue asbestos insulation, and that inexperienced volunteer workers, with no protective equipment whatsoever, were hacking through bulkheads, ripping down overheads, and tearing out fittings, throwing clouds of blue asbestos dust everywhere throughout the ship. He would later swear in an affidavit that he saw piles of powdery asbestos heaped up in hallways and stairwells throughout the ship. The ship's original construction involved a layer of blue asbestos insulation directly against the structural steel, with a thin layer of fire retardant fiber board over that to form the finished wall surface. Merely scratching the painted surface with a screwdriver was enough to cut through to the asbestos, and virtually every square foot of the ship's interior was being completely gutted and rebuilt.
Blue asbestos happens to be one of the most friable and most dangerous forms of the rock, able to very easily float away into the air to be pulled into human lungs. Woodcraft was assured by on-site management that there was no problem. Scientology's official position is that L. Ron Hubbard, as a highly decorated US Naval hero of WWII, was a total expert on everything to do with ships, and he never wrote that asbestos was dangerous, therefore, there was no problem with it.
After considerable work, Freewinds entered service in June, 1988. Due to Scientology's ongoing tax dispute with the US Internal Revenue Service, a complicated web of shell companies was used to own and operate the vessel. Title was held by San Donato Properties Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Flag Ship Trust, which itself is owned by the International Association of Scientologists. Another Flag Ship Trust subsidiary, Transcorp Services, owned the mortgage on the ship, the Flag Ship Service Organization was in charge of running onboard programs, Majestic Cruise Line handled overall management of the ship as a vendor of Flag Ship Service, MCL Services was responsible for shoreside support services to both Majestic Cruise Line and Flag Ship Service, and Flag Ship Service was the entity responsible for most tax payments due in relation to the vessel.
After Scientology received tax exempt status in 1993, the structure was simplified, with the ship now owned by Flag Ship Trust, managed and operated by Flag Ship Service Organization on behalf of Flag Ship Trust, with marketing and bookings handled by Majestic Cruise Line on behalf of Flag Ship Service, all ultimately belonging to the International Association of Scientologists.
As required, Freewinds serves as the exclusive training facility for OT level VIII, all Scientologists worldwide wishing to advance from OT VII to OT VIII must do so on a cruise aboard Freewinds. Aside from that, Freewinds also hosts a much wider variety of lower level courses and programs for Scientologists at all levels, and is used for public relations purposes when in port, often being opened up for public tours and hosting concert performances or gala receptions for local civic leaders and residents.
Freewinds was taken out of service for another extensive refurbishment at the Curacao Drydock Company between 2008-2009. Renovations were delayed when the Polish work crews contracted to do the work discovered the blue asbestos problem and flew home, while local authorities impounded the ship as a health hazard, refusing to allow work to resume unless Scientology developed a comprehensive abatement plan and hired a qualified workforce to carry it out. This, they eventually did, spending some $40 million to largely gut and rebuild Freewinds again, removing virtually all asbestos in the process, allowing the ship to resume service during 2009.
The decision to spend so much money on a ship at the end of its expected service life is, on the surface, puzzling – Freewinds' sister ships, Prins Hamlet, Finnpartner, and Finnhansa, were scrapped in 2002, 2004, and 2008, respectively, but, to Scientology, Freewinds is something of a holy ship – L. Ron Hubbard personally approved of her acquisition in one of his last major acts before his Thetan left Teegeeack, and its the first and only place where OT VIII has ever been taught. As a result, they are evidently committed to keeping the ship in service for as long as humanly possible, regardless of cost.
Freewinds' time with Scientology has not been without additional controversy, the ship has been criticized frequently for excessive waste dumping at Bonaire, and the ship spent the month of May, 2019 quarantined in St. Lucia, due to a measles outbreak among the crew. Some ex-Scientologists, particularly ex-Sea Org members, have also testified to being held on board against their will, having signed up to work a short duration of only one or two voyages, only to have their passports confiscated, followed by being forceably held on board and made to perform harsh, physical labor for several years at at time. Scientology disputes this and other such accusations against the ship.
Since March of 2020, Freewinds has been laid up in port in Curacao as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, maintained by a small skeleton crew.
According to the Equasis database, the ship measures 9,780 gross tons, is owned by San Donato Properties Corporation, and managed by Cruise Management International Inc., both in Penthouse C at 4770 Biscayne Blvd in Miami. Cruise Management is a commercial ship manager that also handles the fleets of several smaller luxury and expedition-style cruise lines.
And, I'll leave you with Scientology's 1990 music video, We Stand Tall, which features footage from the 1988 christening of Freewinds at 3:24.
Just Jeepin' last edited by
Scientology is proof that people crave answers, no matter how painfully obvious the scam may be.
See also: Jim Jones, Q, ad nauseam.
(TIL: it's not spelled nauseum.)
@just-jeepin David Miscavige's father allegedly left the church after Googling "Scientology" on a Kindle he got for his birthday, after like 50 years in the religion and with his son as its Ecclesiastical Leader.
Just Jeepin' last edited by
@ranwhenparked The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away.
ike808 last edited by
Obligatory birth of Scientology story from Harlan Ellison: https://21stcenturysocialcritic.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-birth-of-scientology.html?m=1
@ike808 Scientology was designed to fix the main flaw of Dianetics - namely, that anyone could buy the book (one time) and practice it themselves, depriving Hubbard of a continuous income stream. With Scientology, he was able to keep everything completely under the control of the church, with church members having to come back to it again and again for small bits and pieces of the program, constantly paying for every little thing, and also keep it all trademarked and copyrighted, so no one could practice any of it outside the church.
@ranwhenparked Joining the Sea Org ain't for the fainthearted either. Think a hitch in the Navy could get to be a drag? These people are supposed to sign on for all their subsequent rebirths. It's a billion year contract they sign
@nowhere That kind of job security could be reassuring in this day and age, though.
DipodomysDeserti last edited by
With Scientology, he was able to keep everything completely under the control of the church, with church members having to come back to it again and again for small bits and pieces of the program, constantly paying for every little thing, and also keep it all trademarked and copyrighted, so no one could practice any of it outside the church.
Gee, I wonder where he got that idea from! I’m waiting for the Scientology Martin Luther to emerge.
@dipodomysdeserti And be sued into bankruptcy for violating Scientology's intellectual property
Shop-Teacher last edited by
@ranwhenparked Interesting to learn this timeline. My parents most certainly contributed to that fund, and my dad would have been among the first people to train on the Freewinds.