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MV Freewinds is a cruise ship that is operated by International Shipping - Miami and owned by San Donato Properties, which is a company connected to the Church of Scientology. It was built in 1968 by Wärtsilä Turku Shipyard in Turku, Finland for Wallenius Lines as MS Bohème for service with Commodore Cruise Line. It was the first cruise ship built in Finland. Its ownership passed to a Church of Scientology-controlled company in 1985.[1] In April 2008, the Freewinds was sealed, and work stopped on refurbishments, due to "extensive contamination" with blue asbestos.[2] As of June 2009, its DNV listing states that the ship is "in operation".[3] 19 June 2009 it was in Saint Kitts beginning its 21st year of Caribbean cruising.[4]

Concept and construction

The vessel 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 New Shipyard at the time.[1][5][6] The ships ordered by Lion Ferry were built at Wärtsilä's Turku Shipyard, and the first of them, Prins Hamlet, was delivered to its owners in May 1966.[7] 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.[1]

Meanwhile, the newly-founded Commodore Cruise Line were looking for ships to operate on cruises around the Caribbean.[8] An agreement was reached where the build contract of the half-complete ship was sold to the Sweden-based Wallenius Lines, who would have the ship completed as a cruise ship, and following completion it would be chartered to Commodore Cruise Lines.[1] Following their tradition of naming ships after operas, Wallenius decided to name the ship Bohème, after La Bohème.[1][8] Cabins were added in place of the car decks on the ship (although bow or stern doors were never fitted on it), and its superstructure was redesigned to better accommodate the need for sundeck space in the warmer climates.[1] The Bohème was delivered to Wallenius Bremen, Wallenius Lines' West Germany-based subsidiary, on 12 November 1968. It was registered in West Germany, with Bremerhaven as its home port.[1]

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, it carried its first paying passengers on board. Its maiden voyage was cut short however, as it 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 it 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.[1][9]

On 7 December 1968 the Bohème left on its first cruise from Miami to Saint Thomas. During its first year in service, the ship had notable problems with its air conditioning due to the shipyard's inexperience with building ships for the warm Caribbean climate. As a result, the ship was sent back 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 itenary of Miami—Puerto PlataSaint ThomasSan JuanCap-Haïtien—Miami. It followed the same itenary around the year, becoming the first ship to offer around-the-year seven-night cruises from Miami. It was also the first cruise ship to call at Puerto Plata and the first to offer regular sailings to Cap Haitien.[1]

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.[1][8] 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.[1] 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 that Sally had purchased for conversion into service with Commodore Cruise Line. However, after the Navarino was severely damaged first by a fire and then due to capsising of the drydock, the conversion plans were abandoned.[1][10][11] The crew already hired for the Navarino was transferred to the Bohème.[1]

Between November 1982 and August 1983 the Bohème was chartered to the Brazilia-based Saitecin Cruises for cruises around South America. It also made one cruise from Miami under this charter.[1][9] 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, it also received a new external livery. On returning to service in 1984, the Bohème was placed on a new Miami—Port-au-PrincePort AntonioGrand CaymanCoromuel—Miami itenary. The schedule proved to be too tight to maintain, especially in poor weather conditions.[1] With engine problems causing further problems, this itenary only lasted until November 1984, when the ship was chartered to SeaEscape for their Miami—Freeport ferry service.[1][9]

In February 1985 the Bohème returned to Commodore Cruise Line service. Its port of departure was changed to Saint Petersburg, Florida to better cater to the needs of Commodore's main cliente, the retired people living on Florida's west coast. The ship's new seven-day itenary was Saint Petersburg—Key WestPort AntonioCozumel—Saint Petersburg. The new route proved to be short-lived, as the Bohème was sold to San Donato Properties Corporation in September 1986 for $10 million, to be converted for use with the Church of Scientology.[1][9]

1986 onwards: Scientology acquisition and ownership

In 1984, the Church of Scientology's parent body, the Church of Scientology International (CSI), decided to obtain 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.[12]

An entity called the Flag Ship Trust (FST) was formed in December 1985 with the aid of a $5 million donation from the International Association of Scientologists. In September 1986, the Flag Ship Trust purchased Bohème, renamed it Freewinds, and refitted it to enable its 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 Flag Ship Trust. It is owned by San Donate 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 Netherlands Antilles corporation which provides shore support and liaison services for Majestic Cruise Lines and FSSO from the Freewinds' home port, Curaçao.

Following the Church of Scientology's controversial tax exemption agreement with the United States Internal Revenue Service in 1993, these arrangements were simplified. Majestic Cruise Lines' responsibilities were to be transferred to FSSO, with Majestic itself being dissolved, and FSS Organization was dissolved as it was no longer required for Netherlands Antilles tax reporting purposes.[12] However, Majestic remains in existence and is still actively billing visitors to the Freewinds.[13]

The Freewinds is the fifth ship to have been owned by the Church of Scientology; the other four were the Royal Scotman (later Apollo), the Enchanter (later Diana), the Avon River (later Athena) and the Nekambi, all of which have apparently now been scrapped. However, the nameplate of the Diana has been preserved and is on display aboard the Freewinds. The Church also operated two WWII surplus ships during the late 1960s-early 1970s. These were the Bolivar, a sub chaser (similar to the one commanded by L. Ron Hubbard briefly during the war), and an 843-ton mine-layer TSMY Excalibur (built May 1945). Both vessels were docked at San Pedro, California and used for training new "Sea Org" members.

Scientology use

The 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. Initiates who have reached the highest levels must receive their training on the Freewinds, as the Church does not allow it to take place in any other location.

Besides the OT VIII training, the Freewinds is used for delivering lower-level classes and auditing services. It is also used as a recreational vessel for Scientologists, including celebrities such as Tom Cruise. The ship hosts a "Freewinds Maiden Voyage" each July as an "OT Summit" for high-ranking Scientologists at which Scientology accomplishments and plans for the future are publicly celebrated.[14]

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, the 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.

Other uses

The 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.[15] 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.

Environmental issues

In April 2008, the Freewinds was shut down after cancer-causing blue asbestos was discovered during maintenance by the Curaçao Drydock Company.[16][17] Blue asbestos is the most dangerous form of asbestos, and the ship is reported to be "extensively contaminated".[2] 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."[2] The discovery confirmed a 2001 allegation by former Scientologist Lawrence Woodcraft, who had overseen the original renovation of the Freewinds in 1987.[18][19] The Captain also admitted that during previous maintenance performed by his personnel, asbestos was released into the ventilation system but not reported.[16][17]

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." [20] 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",[21] even though it has never docked in the United States, and has never received reviewing there. 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.[22]

The Freewinds has been noted in Bonaire for the amount of waste water it dumps into the island's inland waste pit. According to one 2007 report, the ship sometimes sends four loads of waste per hour, contributing to a growing environmental problem on the island.[23][24]


Logo on the side of the Freewinds, incorporating the OT, Dianetics, Scientology and Majestic Cruise Lines logos (centre, left, right and above, respectively).

Exterior design

The exterior design of the Bohème/Freewinds is very similar to the Finnhansa class ships built as ferries. It has a moderately raked and slightly rounded bow, rounded forward superstructure, terraced rear superstructure and two slim side-by-side funnels. It differs from its sister ships 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 promade 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 its first visit to Miami, where it 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.[1][8]

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 onboard were originally named after themes related to Puccini's La bohème, the opera that had given its name to the ship itself.[1]

Compared to its sister ships that were built for ferry service, cabins were built on the planned car-deck on the B- and C-decks on the Bohème.[1] 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.[1][7] 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 colorful paintings or mirrors, to give an increased sense of space. Similarly, much of the upholstery and carpets were changed into cheerier colors.[1]

Following acquisition by the Church of Scientology, almost all of the ship's public spaces were rebuilt.[1]

Decks and facilities

As Bohème

Only including spaces accessible to passengers.

  • D deck - Gymnasium, cinema
  • C deck (Caribbean deck) - Outside and inside cabins
  • B deck (Bahamas deck) - Hospital, inside and outside cabins
  • A deck (Antilles deck)- Purser's office, inside and outside cabins
  • Main deck - Puccini and Paris dining rooms, casino, shops, Le Club Mimi bar, beauty shop, Rodolfo lounge, card room, reading room
  • Promenade deck - Marcello lounge/discothèque, game room, deluxe cabins, Café des Artistes, lido deck, swimming pool
  • Bridge deck - Bridge, unknown
  • Sun deck - sundeck[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 "M/S Bohème Cruise Ship Chronicles" (in in English). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 M2 PressWIRE. "Curacao Dry dock Company: Scientology's Cruise Ship Sealed Due To Asbestos Danger". Insurance News Net. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  3. "Freewinds - Certificates". DNV Exchange. Det Norske Veritas. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  4. "Freewinds Celebrate 20 Years with St. Kitts". Saint Kitts and Nevis Vibe. 2009-06-19. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  5. Asklander, Micke. "M/S Finnhansa (1966)" (in in Swedish). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  6. Asklander, Micke. "M/S Finnpartner (1966)" (in in Swedish). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Asklander, Micke. "M/S Prins Hamlet (1966)" (in in Swedish). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Boyle, Ian. "Commodore Cruise Line". Simplon Postcards. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Asklander, Micke. "M/S Bohème (1968)" (in in Swedish). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  10. Asklander, Micke. "M/S Gripsholm (1957)" (in in Swedish). Fakta om Fartyg. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  11. Othfors, Daniel. "Gripsholm (II)/Navarino/Regent Sea". The Great Ocean Liners. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Flag Ship Trust Application for Recognition of Exemption, IRS Form 1023, August 18, 1993
  13. Caroline Letkeman, Flag Ship Service Organization invoice
  15. "Freewinds Plans Benefit Concert to Support Bonaire Animal Shelter" BONAIREINSIDER
  16. 16.0 16.1 Staff (28 April 2008). "Freewinds hides information about presence of asbestos". The Daily Herald (Willemstad, Curaçao). 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Gray, Tyler (2008-04-30). "Scandal on the Lido Deck: Scientology Cruise Ship Exposing Passengers to Asbestos?". Radar Online. Radar Magazine. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  18. Fresh Intelligence : Radar Online : Cancer on the Lido Deck? Scientology Responds
  19. "Lawrence Woodcraft's talks about Blue Asbestos in 2001 video interview". Mark Bunker. 
  20. Staff writer (2008-05-15). "Cruise and Holmes in asbestos warning". Metro. 
  21. Cancer on the Lido Deck? Scientology Responds, Radar, By Tyler Gray 05/01/08 10:40 AM
  22. Rusak, Paweł (2008-10-09). "Polscy stoczniowcy pozwą Kościół Scjentologów?" (in Polish). Wirtualna Polska.,1342,title,Polscy-stoczniowcy-pozwa-Kosciol-Scjentologow,wid,10444891,wiadomosc.html. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  23. DeSalvo, George (2007-10-12). "Flotsam and Jetsam" (PDF). The Bonaire Reporter: p. 5. Retrieved 2008-05-12. 
  24. DeSalvo, George; Laura DeSalvo; David Radomisli (2007-05-18). "Flotsam and Jetsam" (PDF). The Bonaire Reporter: p. 3. Retrieved 2008-05-12. 

External links

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Freewinds. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.