After a discovery of blue asbestos (also known as crocidolite) contaminating the Freewinds, a 40-year old cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology, the ship has been sealed and cordoned off by government officials in Curacao. Dock workers conducting routine repairs discovered the presence of the deadly mineral while conducting routine drydock repairs and renovations. The Freewinds was docked in Ostrobanda, Curacao during April of 2008 in order to undergo the maintenance work. When dockworkers from the Curacao Drydock Company (CDM) found the crocidolite, they reported it to government officials and after an urgent meeting, the ministers sealed the ship and announced their action to the public to forestall panic among the alarmed maintenance workers. The workers have allegedly reported finding extensive contamination on the ship, and that further, the captain of the Freewinds attempted to conceal an asbestos release incident aboard ship, declining to inform crew members that a maintenance crew had accidentally dislodged significant quantities of asbestos-bearing dust into the ship’s ventilation system.
There have been previous reports of asbestos trouble aboard the Freewinds, including a 2001 affidavit filed by a former Scientologist who worked as a naval architect conducting renovations aboard the Freewinds in 1987. During those refits, the architect says he discovered crocidolite in the engine room and throughout the ship. Ships built prior to the late 1970s almost always used asbestos extensively as insulation, wrapping for pipes, and in ship fittings, as the mineral is fireproof and highly resistant to the corrosion endemic to ships at sea. The architect, Lawrence Woodcraft, also alleged that he informed the Scientology organization of his findings but that his concerns were ignored. Shipboard uses of asbestos, like its use in land-based industries, have been conclusively linked to lung cancer, asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, and other health problems and diseases. The Freewinds has been used as a mobile office, training base, and event center by the Scientologists since 1987, and thousands of passengers are known to have traveled aboard the asbestos-laden vessel. Asbestos abatement experts have opined that it will cost tens of millions of dollars to remove the asbestos from the Freewinds and bring her up to modern safety standards, an expense considerably in excess of the ship’s estimated market value. No comment has been made by the Church of Scientology or its controversial SeaOrg naval branch as to the expected disposition of the Freewinds.