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Scientology’s private cruise ship had a fitful history before becoming a floating cathedral

Jeffrey Augustine dives into the background of Scientology’s private cruise ship the Motor Vessel Freewinds, which has quite a colorful history. Rod Keller has the week off.

Built in 1968 at the Wärtsilä Turku Shipyard in Turku, Finland, the ship that would become Scientology’s MV Freewinds was originally designed as a North Sea car ferry. The vessel was ordered by Lion Ferry, a Swedish company that operated car-transport lines in Europe and America. The design concept was simple: Cars were loaded through the stern doors and unloaded in front through a retractable bow. Passengers walked up a gang plank into a side door in the ship. A 1970’s-era stern shot of a sister ship — The Kamiros of the Dane Sea Lines — shows the design of the stern doors:



Lion Ferry had two such ships operating and ordered two more. Lion then decided it only needed one of the additional ships it had ordered. The Wallenius Lines took over the contract on the other ship that would become the Freewinds. The ship was reconfigured to be a passenger cruise ship only. The car deck became passenger staterooms. Luxury amenities were added by the Wallenius Lines to transform the vessel into a true cruise ship rather than a utilitarian short-haul car ferry.

Christened the MS Bohème, the ship was launched in 1968. Its first voyage from Stockholm to Miami was cursed when the vessel hit an undersea cliff off the coast of Stockholm. The hull and a large fuel tank were ruptured. The ship took on a list. Emergency vessels were called and the ship’s passengers were safely evacuated. The damage was slight and was repaired in a week in the Finnboda dry docks in Stockholm.

Wallenius Lines leased the MS Bohème to Commodore Cruise Lines. Commodore operated the vessel from Miami to St. Thomas and other Caribbean ports for two years. However, the ship, which had been designed for North Sea operations, proved unsatisfactory for Caribbean service. In 1970, the vessel underwent an extensive rebuild at the Blohm+Voss shipyards in Hamburg. A new air-conditioning system was installed as were screw compressors and new freshwater generators. Following the rebuild, Commodore employed the Bohème from 1970 to 1982 on the same weekly run from Miami to St. Thomas and back. The route was very popular and the Bohème was a profitable investment. Commodore even promoted the vessel as the “Happy Ship” as this vintage advertisement shows:


In 1981, Wallenius sold the now 13-year-old vessel to Rederi Ab Sally, a Finland-based shipping company that wanted to enter the burgeoning cruise ship business.

The company then leased the vessel to Saitecin Cruises for South American cruising. The Bohème sailed to Rio de Janeiro and as far south as Tierra del Fuego in the years 1982-1983. After its South American period, the ship sailed back to Bremerhaven for retrofitting as the ship was showing its age. The hull was even cut open to install two new diesel generators. After the refit, Bohème was returned to Caribbean routes from its new home port of St. Petersburg, Florida. The ship catered to retirees, and, as St. Petersburg and nearby Clearwater had a large population of retirees with disposable income, the new port was a logical choice.

Meanwhile, as the Bohème catered to retirees in the Caribbean, Scientology had been preparing for a big new development.

Scientology’s OT VII level was released on September 20, 1970. In May 1971, Clear News Issue 57 announced that OT VIII — the highest level of achievement on Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom” — would soon be released based upon the following conditions being met:

OT VIII will be released soon and we want as many people as possible up to OT VII and full case completion, ready to go when OT VIII is released.

How soon OT VIII is released depends on how many are prepared for it. So it is the responsibility of each individual, not only for himself, but to all Scientologists and the rest of Mankind to get to OT VII with no Q&A. Don’t let anything stop you – it’s your own immortality and OT Power at stake.

As with so many promises made by Scientology, the promise of OT VIII being released would take much longer to be fulfilled. In 1984 Scientology leadership decided that OT VIII could not possibly be delivered on land. This was due to the many distractions presented by what L. Ron Hubbard deemed a degraded humanoid civilization. As Scientology would later tell the IRS:

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.

In 1984 Scientology’s ultimate slush fund — called the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) – was formed coincident with the announcement that a ship was needed to deliver OT VIII. Created in the wake of the prosecutions of high-level Scientology officials who went to prison for their part in running the Snow White Program, the IAS arose from the ashes of the Safe Environment Fund (SEF), an entity that had been created to pay for the legal expenses of Snow White defendants. When the defendants signed a Stipulation of Evidence and were sentenced there was no longer a need for the SEF. However, the Church realized the true beauty of the SEF was that no monies ever had to be refunded from a defense fund. Hence, the IAS was created in 1984 to defend and protect the Scientology religion.

Sea Org member Janet Light was appointed to lead the IAS. Cash immediately began pouring in at prodigious rates as Janet Light’s registrars fanned out over the entire Scientology universe. The sales pitch was that the fate of Scientology hung in the balance and the IAS was all that stood between the Scientology’s powerful enemies and destruction.

Sea Org teams were dispatched internationally in search of a ship for Scientology to purchase. Once the Bohème was identified as the ship that would best fit Scientology’s needs, an entity called the Flag Ship Trust was created in December 1985. The IAS donated $5 million as initial funding for the trust.

In 1986, the now eighteen-year-old Bohème was sold for $10 million to San Donato Properties of Panama, a Scientology-controlled entity. Adjusted for inflation, this is $22 million dollars in 2018 money. Extensive renovations of the ship were undertaken by Sea Org members and shipyard workers in Willemstad, Curacao. For example, a high-security OT VIII HGC had to be built on the ship as did an OT VIII course room and auditing rooms.

The vessel would ostensibly be operated by Majestic Cruise Lines, another Scientology-controlled entity. The new owners christened the ship the MV Freewinds. Despite the tangle of the typical Scientology front companies, the Freewinds was managed and crewed by Sea Org members who worked for a new Org called the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO). Sea Org member Mike Napier, who was a licensed ship master, was appointed the captain of the Freewinds and remains its skipper to this day.

As we covered in a previous article, the IAS is an unincorporated membership organization that, in and of itself can do nothing. Therefore, the IAS needed an operating arm that could collect monies, open offshore bank accounts, and spend monies on its behalf as David Miscavige saw fit. The IAS operating arm was created and named the International Association of Scientologists Administrations (IASA). While the IAS and the IASA had offices everywhere Scientology operated, both were legally situated in Curacao so that their operations and offshore bank accounts were outside of US jurisdiction.

Offices for the IAS and the IASA were placed on board the Freewinds itself. In order to reach the level of OT VIII, the very pinnacle of Scientology’s Bridge to Total Freedom, members would need to travel to Curacao and board the Freewinds where a gauntlet of IAS and other Scientology salespeople awaited them in this captive environment.

No longer the “Happy Ship” as the Bohème, the ship had a much grimmer future ahead of it.

— Jeffrey Augustine

Jeffrey will be back with a part two of the Freewinds’ history later this week.


Scientology’s celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs’ — now with comments!

[Juliette Lewis and the Orlando Ideal Org]

We’ve started a new project, building landing pages about two of David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, his celebrities and his ‘Ideal Orgs.’ For the next several weeks, we’ll post a couple of pages each day, and we’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about each of them, in order to build a record and maintain a watch as Scientology continues its inexorable decline — and yes, we finally have comments working on these new pages! Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments about all of your favorite celebrites and failing Ideal Orgs

Previously, we posted pages for celebrities Anne Archer, Beck Hansen, Catherine Bell, Chick Corea, Elisabeth Moss, Erika Christensen, Ethan Suplee, Giovanni Ribisi, Greta Van Susteren, Jenna Elfman and John Travolta. And for the Ideal Orgs of Portland, Oregon; Sydney, Australia; San Diego, California; Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; Perth, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; Sacramento, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Silicon Valley, California and Rome, Italy.

Today it’s Juliette Lewis and Orlando, Florida!




Please join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,246 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,849 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 392 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 280 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,455 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,229 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,003 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,349 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,915 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,583 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,843 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,883 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,595 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,121 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,210 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,350 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,670 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 7,526 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,645 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,001 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,303 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,409 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,812 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,683 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,266 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,771 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,015 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,124 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on September 23, 2018 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


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