(This article by Jeffrey Augustine was first published on The Underground Bunker. It is republished here with added content and archival material.)
L. Ron Hubbard’s original flagship, the Apollo, met a freak ending when it was hit and destroyed by a 3,750,000 pound freight train. This is somewhat ironic when you remember Hubbard’s 1963 claim…
“I notice that we all believe that Venus has a methane atmosphere and is unlivable. I almost got run down by a freight locomotive the other day — didn’t look very uncivilized to me.” – L. Ron Hubbard, “Between Lives Implants” lecture, SHSBC #317. 23 July 1963.
Train-ship collisions are as rare as David Miscavige doing a network television news interview, which is to say that both have only happened once, according to the record. How did this bizarre collision occur? The story begins in 1975 in Daytona Beach, Florida when the Sea Org left the Apollo and went ashore.
When Hubbard and the Sea Org went ashore in 1975 and began surreptitiously to take over the town of Clearwater, Florida, the Apollo became a forgotten discard, a sort of second wife the Sea Org never had. The vessel was now a 39-year-old boat that guzzled expensive fuel oil. Accordingly, a seven-man skeleton crew was assigned to maintain the vessel while the Church worked to sell it and make some money. The crew dropped anchor in Nassau and would remain there for two years as only a tiny handful of prospective buyers came and went.
The Apollo was finally sold for $90,000 in 1977 to Consolidated-Andy Inc., a shipbreaking firm in Brownsville, Texas. The poster russ tee k9 added this comment on the sale of the Apollo on Tony Ortega’s blog:
Originally intending to dismantle the ship for scrap, Richard Jaross, Vice-President of Consolidated-Andy Inc., told the Brownsville Herald in October 1977 that the company had decided instead to turn it into a floating restaurant and locate it at the highly popular tourist town of South Padre Island.
Consolidated-Andy Inc. then changed its plans and sold the ship at auction to Zanzibar Shipping in 1978 for $188,000, doubling its investment in a one-year flip. Rechristened the Arctic Star by Zanzibar, the ship would never leave Brownsville for South Padre Island. Zanzibar Shipping would later be described in court papers as a, “Panamanian corporation with its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” This makes no sense, but it gets more tangled as Zanzibar Shipping claimed in court papers that it did no business in the United States.
The 1982 Memorandum Decision of District Judge DeAnda tells the story and adds an incorrect detail that would surely have infuriated Commodore Hubbard:
The ship now called “ARCTIC STAR” has seen a colorful and varied career. Christened the “ROYAL SCOTSMAN” in 1936, she plied the rough seas between Belfast and Glasgow and survived. She risked German U-Boats when used as a troop ship in World War II and survived. She even had a name change (to “APOLLO”) and saw use as a spy ship for the CIA and survived. After having successfully avoided these often encountered and expected nautical dangers, it is perhaps quite ironic that she did not survive the night of September 16, 1980, when while lying at berth in the Port of Brownsville, Texas, she was rammed and constructively sunk by a railroad train.
…In addition to its unusual history, the ownership of the “ARCTIC STAR” is also far from ordinary. Although since being rechristened the “ARCTIC STAR” the ship has never left the Port of Brownsville, Texas, it is owned by Zanzibar Shipping, S. A., a Panamanian corporation with its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The exact makeup of this corporation, created especially for ownership of the “ARCTIC STAR,” is shrouded in mystery; its stock is “bearer stock” and not even the corporate secretary, Ms. Ann Priddy, has any idea who or where its stockholders are. Despite its being headquartered in Wisconsin and having its only known asset permanently docked in Texas, Zanzibar Shipping maintains that it does no business in the United States.
The Apollo was not a CIA spy ship. In fact, L. Ron Hubbard was infuriated when this rumor was circulated during the years when the Apollo was cruising around the Mediterranean. The “Apollo is a CIA ship” rumor caused the Apollo to lose docking privileges in Mediterranean ports. Soon, virtually no Mediterranean ports would accept the Apollo. This forced Hubbard to order the Apollo to cross the Atlantic in July 1974. The Apollo then cruised the Caribbean for about sixteen months. Hubbard decided to have the Sea Org go ashore to Daytona Beach in October 1975.
“WTF!?” you may be asking yourself. How does a train hit a ship? One of my sources sent me a PDF copy of the newspaper article from the Brownsville Herald which is posted at the bottom of this article. In the article we learn that the collision happened late at night. The four people who were living aboard the ship were not injured; the same could not be said for the Apollo.
Quoting from the July 19, 1981 story we read:
The train, operated by Missouri Pacific, had been rolling along the concrete pier on a siding when seven boxcars detached from an engine, smashed through a blockade and struck the ship…
It was a night Capt. Robert Manning won’t easily forget either.
“I said: ‘I can’t believe this, there’s a train hanging out of the ship.”
Manning, asleep at the time of impact, recalls he was awakened by his wife, Anna, telling him: “ Honey, we’ve been hit by a train .”
“I thought it was a dream,” Manning said.
And it wasn’t easy explaining it to the Coast Guard and others he contacted by telephone. “They said, ‘Right, captain. Now put down that bottle and get yourself some sleep.’
“And I said, ‘No, really, we’ve been hit by a train .’
“And they’d say, ‘Captain, put out what you’re smoking and try to get some rest. Everything’s going to be all right.’”
Captain Manning’s appearance is as colorful as his great story-telling ability:
The ship’s master is Captain Robert Manning, all of whose navigational charts seem to point towards the federal courthouse. See U. S. v. Firebird, Inc., No. B-79-116, (S.D.Texas, filed May 17, 1979); Baldwin v. Cisneros, No. B-79-249 (S.D.Tex., filed November 15, 1979); Brownsville Navigational District v. “ARCTIC STAR”, No. B-82-5 (S.D.Tex., filed January 11, 1982); Zanzibar Shipping v. United States, No. H-82-288 (S.D.Tex., filed after January 11, 1982).
Missouri Pacific Railroad Company conceded liability. The locomotive was pulling eighteen fully loaded freight cars. Seven of these cars separated from the train, jumped the tracks, smashed through a concrete barrier, and slammed into the Arctic Star. The only question now was how much Zanzibar Shipping could take Missouri Pacific to the cleaners for.
Here is a photo posted on the Bunker by PickAnotherID that shows the culprit in the crash:
Fun Fact: Athearn sells a replica of the ship-killer Engine #2199. This makes the perfect gift for model train enthusiasts who want a replica of an engine with an unusual history:
HOW HARD DID THE TRAIN HIT THE APOLLO?
Essentially, the train cars hit the ship so hard that “the nine-inch polypropylene stern lines securing the ship snapped from the impact.” Imagine the sheer force needed to snap 9″ polypropylene lines! The ship’s stern was pushed out and its bow was pushed in and collided with the dock. The net effect was that the hull was twisted from the impact. As the court noted:
Repair of a twisted hull is extremely expensive. The “ARCTIC STAR” is a riveted-hull vessel, a type of construction no longer used in shipbuilding. To determine the exact extent of the damages would require the ship to be towed to a shipyard capable of doing this type of repair work and there drydocking and completely inspecting the ship. Estimates for this repair work were uniformly high…The lowest estimate is $10,000,000.
The court noted that the locomotive and its fully loaded freight cars weighed 3,750,000 pounds. The speed at which the fully loaded train was moving cannot be found by your correspondent. However, physics gives us the simple equation: Force equals mass times acceleration. The train was pulling eighteen fully loaded freight cars at a sufficiently high rate of speed that when seven cars separated from the train and jumped the tracks, they hit the 3,244 ton Apollo with a high enough amount energy to twist the ship’s 340 foot hull. According to the court record, the Apollo rolled during the impact and took on some water. The ship didn’t sink but it did take on water.
The court discussed the various legal theories in determining damages. This was necessary as the opposing parties were light years apart in what the damages should be. The court noted this discrepancy in whimsical language:
One of Defendant’s experts, Tommy Laing, estimated the damages at $21,000, based on cost of repair; one of Plaintiff’s experts Fergus Fleming, estimated damages at $35,000,000, based on cost of replacement. This is not a shadowland, but the Twilight Zone. Even when considering value alone, the differences are staggering. A surveyor for Plaintiff, Manning Dierlam, estimated the “ARCTIC STAR”‘s market value at $2,500,000… Defendant’s experts’ top value was $350,000.
The court next discussed the actual condition of the ship…
…the photographic evidence introduced during the trial indicates an aging and rusting ship in poor condition…The fact that the “ARCTIC STAR” could not legally sail on September 16, 1980, and the costs of re-securing her seaworthy status are important and relevant factors the Court has considered in determining her value. Because of her poor condition and lack of papers the Court further finds that on September 16, 1980, the “ARCTIC STAR” was not seaworthy.
Two other factors the Court has utilized in determining the value of the “ARCTIC STAR” are her insured value and the ship’s mortgage. Plaintiff’s claims of great value for its vessel are undercut by the fact that it did not maintain insurance on her…Zanzibar Shipping apparently negotiated a mortgage with a foreign bank for $200,000 and had received a Letter of Credit for that amount.
…After considering all of the above factors and findings of fact, the Court concludes that the value of the “ARCTIC STAR” on September 16, 1980 was $350,000. The Court finds her salvage value was $58,400, based on $40 a ton for uncut scrap and a weight of 1460 tons…Plaintiff is therefore entitled to recover from Defendant the sum of $291,600 as damages for the constructive total loss of the “ARCTIC STAR.”
An additional $13,000 was awarded for a small scow and a hatch cover the train destroyed. Costs of cleaning up 10 tons of oil that were spilled were awarded as were survey fees. Zanzibar Shipping paid $188,000 for the ship and collected $291,600 in damages, thus turning a tidy profit. The court awarded 12 percent per year interest from the date of the loss and so Zanzibar pocketed about another $70,000 in interest.
Gulmar Inc. of Brownsville, Texas was given the contract to haul away the damaged Arctic Star and scrap it. The Apollo, the once legendary Flag Ship of Commodore L. Ron Hubbard, was disposed of quietly and without sorrow under the pitiless sun in a nondescript ship breaking yard in Brownsville, Texas.
In a peculiar postscript to this story, parts of the Apollo deemed to be of value were stored by Gulmar Inc. in 1984 only to be promptly forgotten. In 2016, Gulmar Inc. sold these items at auction. An eBay seller purchased the lot and realized he had parts of the Apollo.
The seller offered the ship’s helm for $19,995.95. We contacted him, and he said that he had sold the item, but wouldn’t reveal the identity of buyer or the amount paid.
Consolidated-Andy Inc. purchases the Apollo. Story of October 16, 1977 in the Brownsville Herald. Please hover your cursor over the document to invoke the page up/page down controls at the bottom of the page frame:brownsville-herald-oct-16-1977-p-9.AAA
The Brownsville Herald article on the train hitting the Apollo. Please hover your cursor over the document to invoke the page up/page down controls at the bottom of the page frame:Apollo.brownsville-herald-jul-19-1981-p-27
The Memorandum Decision in Zanzibar Shipping v. Railroad Locomotive Engine. Please hover your cursor over the document to invoke the page up/page down controls at the bottom of the page frame:ZANZIBAR SHPG. v. Railroad Locomotive Engine, 533 F. Supp. 392 (S.D. Tex. 1982) __ Justia.1