I was fortunate that when I returned from my first cruise on the Achille Lauro in January 1987, there was another ship in the harbour to visit before I headed off back to Johannesburg.
While the Achille Lauro is no spring chicken, this oldie made her look young, built in 1914 as the SS Medina, the MV Doulos was the oldest active ocean faring passenger ship in the world until she was retired in 2009.
She was under the ownership of GBA (Good Books for All), a German Christian based charity that operates floating bookshops. Calling in Durban, the Doulos was berthed at Maiden Wharf from 11 Dec – 6 Jan, and I was fortunate enough to go on board her. However, once again I was restricted by how much film I had, so images are scarce of this oldie. But, I think the pics I took on that occasion are probably the best.
There is no way that you could look at her and not see how old she was, inspite of the numerous alterations she endured over the years.
That beautiful old stern was a definite give away, it was the type of stern usually associated with sailing ships.
Doulos did not always look like this, she was originally built as a cargo ship in Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, and launched on 22 August 1914 and she survived both world wars! She first entered the passenger trade in 1948.
In 1952 she was acquired by Costa who re-engined and refurbished her, putting her back into service as the Franca C. Dolous is not a large vessel, and the Franca C soldiered on until disposed of in the 1970’s.
She was acquired by GBA and from then on she roamed the world, welcoming thousands of visitors wherever she went. She not only sold books though, but missionary teams went out into local communities to do their work and to bring a message of hope to the people that they encountered.
She was crewed by an all volunteer crew who paid to work on board her, and it was a very successful union between an old ship and an eager and dedicated workforce.
Once on board you could see her age, her lifeboat davits definitely being from a previous era. It was also said that in parts her plates were very thin and you could literally put your finger through them, but somehow I doubt it. American built ships were built very strongly, and she was very well maintained even though there was a limited budget available. I know I bought books on board her that day, and when I left I had a feeling that just maybe one day our paths would cross again.
My next encounter I cannot date positively, although I do recall the trip. My trusty ship book gives the date as 11 November 1993, but she was only in Durban from 24 November till 13 December, which means we probably saw her on 2 December when we were there for Marco Polo.
It was an important year for Doulos too as she was in Cape Town from 28 April to 15 November where she had major electrical work done, converting her from DC to AC as well as a much welcomed drydocking. The work was probably done by volunteers too, and she was often waived port duties by port authorities. In total she spent 9 months of the year in South African waters.
The images I have of her are not as good as those I took before, in fact the difference may be related to the weather.
It was hard to say whether anything changed on board. I do know that the South African courtesy flag that she was flying would soon be on its way out.
She came to South Africa three more times before she was withdrawn from service in 2009, and her statistics are very impressive for the time that she was in service with GBA. Sadly though she would be doomed by SOLAS 2010, and faced with a large repair bill it was decided that the venerable ex freighter had reached the end of the line.
Or had she?
On March 18, 2010, she became the property of BizNaz Resources International Pte Ltd in Singapore who planned to preserve the ship under the name Doulos Phos, (Servant Light), In September 2013, she was towed from Singapore to Batam, Indonesia to be refurbished before being moving to the Island of Bintan to be part of a hotel resort.
Amazingly the ship was converted into a hotel, albeit not afloat, but the conversion was amazing. Unfortunately due to the Covd Pandemic it closed in March 2020 until further notice. (Hotel website)
The Doulos may surprise us all, after all, she has been around over 100 years!
DRW © 2010-2021. Moved and recreated images 11/03/2016, moved to Musings 02/03/2021, tagged 12/12/2008