Freewinds | Wikipedia audio article


MV Freewinds is a former cruise ship operated
by International Shipping Partners and owned by San Donato Properties, which is a company
affiliated with the Church of Scientology. She was built in 1968 by Wärtsilä Turku
Shipyard in Turku, Finland for Wallenius Lines as MS Bohème for service with Commodore Cruise
Line. She was the first cruise ship built in Finland. Her ownership passed to a Church of Scientology-controlled
company in 1985.==Concept and construction==
The ship that eventually became known as the Freewinds was originally ordered by the Sweden-based
Lion Ferry as the second in a pair of two car/passenger ferries for use on their new
Bremerhaven (West Germany)–Harwich (United Kingdom) service, with provisions made for
cruise service during the northern hemisphere winter season. The ships shared the same design as Finnhansa
and Finnpartner, that were under construction for Finnlines at Wärtsilä Helsinki Shipyard
at the time. The ships ordered by Lion Ferry were built
at Wärtsilä’s Turku Shipyard, and the first of them, Prins Hamlet, was delivered to her
owners on 14 May 1966. However, the passenger demand on the Bremerhaven–Harwich
route proved to be insufficient for two ships, and Lion Ferry cancelled the order for a second
ship, which was to be named “Prins Albert”.Meanwhile, the newly founded Commodore Cruise Line was
looking for ships to operate on cruises around the Caribbean. An agreement was reached where the build contract
of the half-complete ship was sold to the Sweden-based Wallenius Lines, which would
have the ship completed as a cruise ship and, following completion, she would be chartered
to Commodore Cruise Lines. Following their tradition of naming ships
after operas, Wallenius decided to name the ship Bohème, after La bohème. Cabins were added in place of the car decks
on the ship (although bow or stern doors were never fitted on her), and her superstructure
was redesigned to better accommodate the need for sundeck space in the warmer climates. Bohème was delivered to Wallenius Bremen,
Wallenius Lines’ West Germany-based subsidiary, on 12 November 1968. She was registered in West Germany, with Bremerhaven
as her home port.==Service history=====1968–1981: Wallenius Lines ownership
===Following delivery the Bohème sailed to Stockholm,
the location of Wallenius Lines’ headquarters, for a presentation to invited guests. On departing Stockholm for Miami she carried
her first paying passengers on board. Her maiden voyage was cut short however, as
she hit an underwater cliff outside Dalarö in the Stockholm Archipelago. The cliff breached the ship’s hull and fuel
tanks. Lifeboats were used to evacuate all passengers
from the listing ship, and three days later she was refloated and towed to the Finnboda
shipyard in Nacka for week-long repairs. After the repairs she again left for Miami,
this time without passengers.On 7 December 1968 the Bohème left on her first cruise
from Miami to Saint Thomas. During her first year in service the ship
had notable problems with her air conditioning due to the shipyard’s inexperience with building
ships for the warm Caribbean climate. As a result, she returned to Europe in 1980,
sailing to the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg, West Germany where the air conditioning system
was rebuilt, an additional screw compressor as well as two freshwater generators were
installed. Following the rebuild the Bohème re-entered
service with an itinerary of Miami–Puerto Plata–Saint Thomas–San Juan–Cap-Haïtien–Miami. She followed the same itinerary around the
year, becoming the first ship to offer around-the-year seven-night cruises from Miami. She was also the first cruise ship to call
at Puerto Plata and the first to offer regular sailings to Cap Haitien.===1981–1986: Rederi Ab Sally ownership
===In March 1981 Commodore Cruise Line, as well
as the Bohème, were sold to the Finland-based Rederi Ab Sally. The new owners re-registered the Bohème to
Panama, which resulted in most of the German officers resigning due to worsened working
conditions. The resigned officers were replaced with Scandinavians. The following year the German deck and engine
crews were replaced by Filipinos. Originally the new crew members were meant
for Navarino, a former ocean liner (ex Gripsholm 1957) Sally had purchased for conversion into
service with Commodore Cruise Line. However, after the Navarino was severely damaged
due to capsizing of the drydock, the conversion plans were abandoned. The crew already hired for the Navarino was
transferred to the Bohème.Between November 1982 and August 1983 the Bohème was chartered
to the Brazilia-based Saitecin Cruises for cruises around South America. She also made one cruise from Miami under
this charter. Following this charter the ship again returned
to West Germany to be rebuilt, this time in Bremerhaven, where two new diesel generators
were installed and much of the interior decorations replaced. While in Bremerhaven she also received a new
external livery. On returning to service in 1984 the Bohème
was placed on a new Miami–Port-au-Prince–Port Antonio–Grand Cayman–Cozumel–Miami itinerary. The schedule proved to be too tight to maintain,
especially in poor weather conditions. With engine problems causing further problems,
this itinerary only lasted until November 1984, when the ship was chartered to SeaEscape
for their Miami–Freeport ferry service.In February 1985 the Bohème returned to Commodore
Cruise Line service. Her port of departure was changed to Saint
Petersburg, Florida to better cater to the needs of Commodore’s main clientele, the retired
people living on Florida’s west coast. The ship’s new seven-day itinerary was Saint
Petersburg–Key West–Port Antonio–Cozumel–Saint Petersburg. The new route proved to be short-lived, as
the Bohème was sold to San Donato Properties Corporation in September 1986 for US$10 million
(equivalent to $22,857,000 in 2018), to be converted for use with the Church of Scientology.===1986 onwards: Scientology acquisition
and ownership===In 1984, the Church of Scientology’s parent
body, the Church of Scientology International (CSI), decided to acquire a ship on which
to deliver high-level Scientology courses. According to a statement by the Church, CSI believed that an ocean-going vessel would
be the most appropriate facility for ministering New OT VIII because this advanced level of
religious service requires a completely safe, aesthetic and distraction-free environment
and because L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s founder, had researched and ministered the
first OT levels aboard a ship in the late 1960s. A ship therefore would have particular religious
significance to Scientologists. An entity called the Flag Ship Trust (FST)
was formed in December 1985 with the aid of a US$5 million donation from the International
Association of Scientologists. In September 1986, the FST purchased Bohème,
renamed her Freewinds, and refitted her to enable use for Scientology purposes. The vessel was put into service in June 1988. The ownership and management of the vessel
was organized through a complicated web of Scientology-run corporations and entities,
most of which are owned by the FST. It is owned by San Donato Properties, a Panamanian
corporation of which FST is the sole shareholder. Another FST-owned Panamanian corporation,
Transcorp Services, owns the mortgage on the Freewinds. FSS Organization was a Netherlands Antilles
corporation responsible for paying certain taxes on the vessel to the Netherlands Antilles
authorities. Scientology courses are delivered aboard the
vessel by the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO), in effect a floating branch of the
Church of Scientology. Majestic Cruise Lines is a Panamanian corporation
which operates the Freewinds, receiving payment from FSSO for the use of the ship. MCL Services is a corporation in the Netherlands
Antilles that provides shore support and liaison services for Majestic Cruise Lines and FSSO
from the home port of the Freewinds, Curaçao. Following the Church of Scientology’s tax
exemption agreement with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in 1993, these arrangements
were simplified. The responsibilities of the Majestic Cruise
Lines were to be transferred to FSSO, with Majestic itself being dissolved, and FSS Organization
being dissolved as it was no longer required for tax reporting purposes in the Netherlands
Antilles. However, the Majestic company remains in existence
and is still actively billing visitors to the Freewinds.Freewinds is the fifth ship
to be owned by the Church of Scientology. The other four were Royal Scotsman (later
Apollo), Enchanter (later Diana), Avon River (later Athena), and Nekambi, all of which
have apparently been scrapped. However, the nameplate of Diana has been preserved
and is on display aboard Freewinds. The church also operated two World War II
surplus ships from the late 1960s until the early 1970s. These were Bolivar, a subchaser, and T.S.M.Y. Excalibur. Both of these vessels were docked at San Pedro,
California, and were used for training new Sea Org members.==Scientology use==
Freewinds is the exclusive training center for OT VIII (Operating Thetan Level 8), the
highest level of Scientology and the last of the published OT levels. Members of the Church of Scientology who have
reached the highest levels must receive their training on the Freewinds, as the Church does
not deliver this service anywhere else.Besides the OT VIII training, Freewinds is used for
delivering lower-level classes, auditing services, and recreational activities for Scientologists. The ship hosts a “Freewinds Maiden Voyage”
each June as an “OT Summit” for high-ranking Scientologists at which Scientology accomplishments
and plans for the future are publicly celebrated.A significant portion of the ship is given over
to its use as a religious retreat for Scientologists. As well as various course rooms and a library
of L. Ron Hubbard books, Freewinds has areas given over to the Religious Technology Center,
Sea Org and International Association of Scientologists. As is common practice in other Scientology
organizations, the ship also has an “LRH Office” symbolically set aside for L. Ron Hubbard’s
use (Hubbard died in January 1986, approximately nine months before the vessel was purchased).===Other uses===
Freewinds often hosts local functions in the ports it frequents, such as jazz concerts
and movie performances in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. These events are usually free but often support
island charities through entrance fees or suggested donations. Local artists are often showcased. It also caters to different international
conferences and events. The ship’s leisure facilities include a restaurant,
lounge, cabaret, swimming pool, movie theater and beauty salon.==Allegations of abuse onboard==
In 2011, former Sea Org member Valeska Paris reported that she had been imprisoned onboard
the Freewinds to prevent her from leaving Scientology, after joining at age 14. Once she was taken to the ship, expecting
to be on board for two weeks, Paris said her passport was taken away and she was held on
the ship against her will and forced into manual labor for 12 years, and unable to leave
the ship without an escort for six years.Her story was corroborated by a former Sea Org
member who said “[Valeska] made it very clear she did not want to be there. She had been sent to the ship so as not to
be in contact with one of her parents and that’s not what she wanted, she was very,
very distressed.” The Church of Scientology has denied the claims.==Environmental issues==
In April 2008, the Freewinds was shut down after blue asbestos was discovered by government
health inspectors during maintenance by the Curaçao Drydock Company. Blue asbestos is the most dangerous form of
asbestos, and the ship is reported to be “extensively contaminated”. According to InsuranceNewsNet, “Decontamination,
if it is even possible, is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and would result
in the ship being in dry dock for many months.”The discovery confirmed a 2001 allegation by former
Scientologist Lawrence Woodcraft, who had overseen the original renovation of the Freewinds
in 1987. The Captain also admitted that during previous
maintenance performed by his personnel, asbestos was released into the ventilation system but
not reported.The Church of Scientology denied that there is an asbestos problem, commenting
in May 2008 that “there is not now and never has been a situation of asbestos exposure
on the Freewinds.” Karin Pouw, spokesperson for the Church of
Scientology, told Radar Magazine that the air quality on the ship was regularly tested
and “always meets or exceeds US standards”. The Church contracted Nordica Engineering
to perform renovations on the Freewinds and denied the presence of blue asbestos during
talks. To remove material from the ship, Nordica
brought in 240 Polish workers, who lived on the Freewinds for a month and a half. When workers told Nordica there was blue asbestos
on the ship, they stopped renovations and workers returned to Poland. Witold Maliński stated that Nordica was looking
to demand compensation on behalf of its workers.The Freewinds has been noted in Bonaire for the
amount of waste water it dumps into the island’s inland waste pit.==2019 measles quarantine==
In May 2019 the Freewinds was placed in quarantine by the island of St. Lucia during a visit,
after a confirmed case of measles on board. Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, St. Lucia’s
chief medical officer, said in a statement: “Because of the risk of potential infection,
not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat
at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark.”The
ship left St Lucia on 2 May en route to its home port of Curaçao. The measles case was identified as a female
crew member.==Design=====
Exterior design===The exterior design of the Bohème/Freewinds
is very similar to the Finnhansa class ships built as ferries. She has a moderately raked and slightly rounded
bow, rounded forward superstructure, terraced rear superstructure and two slim side-by-side
funnels. She differs from her sisters with the superstructure
expanding further on promenade deck (on the other ships it only extends as far as the
bridge), swimming pool added to the rear of promenade deck, and the observation lounge
missing from the topmost deck; this was replaced by an open sunbathing area. As built the Bohème was painted in Wallenius
Lines livery, with an all-white hull and superstructure, yellow radar mast and yellow funnels with
a wide horizontal green stripe painted on them and the letters OW (for Olof Wallenius)
painted on the stripe. The ship only kept this livery until her first
visit to Miami, where she was repainted in the Commodore Cruise Line livery, with white
funnels and radar mast. A dark blue decorative stripe was later painted
on the hull. During the 1983 refit the livery of the Bohème
was more radically altered, when blue stripes were painted along the windows on main and
promenade decks, as well as the bridge windows. The funnels were re-painted with a spray-shaped
design in blue, red and yellow.Following acquisition by the Church of Scientology the ship’s external
appearance was changed slightly from the final Commodore livery; the Freewinds received dark
blue funnels with the Majestic Cruise Lines logo on them, while an intricate combination
of Scientology-related symbols was painted on both sides of the hull (pictured on the
right). Additionally three decorative ribands were
painted on the side of the hull towards the rear.===Interior design===
Members of the Wallenius family were heavily involved in the interior design of the Bohème. Margareta Wallenius in particular dedicated
her interest to the interiors of the ship, having her say in the materials used and works
of art brought in from promising artists in Paris. Reflecting the company tradition of naming
ships after operas, all public rooms on board were originally named after themes related
to Puccini’s La bohème, the opera that had given its name to the ship itself.Compared
to her sisters built for ferry service, cabins were built on the planned car-deck on the
B- and C-decks on the Bohème. The car decks had in fact been originally
planned to accommodate temporary cabin modules during the winter when Lion Ferry, the company
that had originally ordered the Bohème, planned to use her for cruising to the Canary Isles. Additionally a small gymnasium and cinema
were added in place of cargo hold on D-deck. All stairways and public rooms were panelled
in light Nordic woods, while the deluxe cabins received dark oak panelings. During the 1983 refit much of the original
panelling was replaced either by colourful paintings or mirrors to give an increased
sense of space. Similarly much of the upholstery and carpets
were changed into cheerier colours.==See also==
List of cruise ships

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