Lawrence Woodcraft

Scientology’s cruise ship the Freewinds: Why OT 8 needed to be delivered off-shore

(This article by Jeffrey Augustine was originally published on Tony Ortega’s blog and is republished here for archival purposes)

As covered in our previous article, the Church of Scientology proclaimed the imminent release of the highest auditing level on the Bridge, OT 8, in 1971. “Imminent,” however, turned out to be another 14 years of waiting before it was L. Ron Hubbard announced the release of the level in Ron’s Journal 39. Hubbard declared that OT 8 was his 1985 New Year’s Gift to Scientologists…

On OT 8, Scientologists would finally discover the primary reason for amnesia on the Whole Track — why they had forgotten most of what they had experienced in their trillions of years of previous existence. Such a huge technological advance would need a special location to deliver, and a new Advanced Org dedicated solely to OT 8. An elite team of Sea Org auditors would need to be selected and trained.

But why a ship for OT 8? We see three reasons. First, the Church was purchasing real estate in Downtown Clearwater at a pace that made the locals tense about Scientology’s plans for their tranquil seaside community. Those tensions were becoming open hostility by 1985. Second, Scientology did not have IRS tax exemption in 1985. Third, Scientology was still smarting after the FBI’s massive 1977 raid and the subsequent prosecution of eleven church officials.

Hubbard was in hiding, and he had a series of backup ranches in case he needed to flee his hiding place in Creston, California. Having a ship based outside of US jurisdiction offered the Church its own backup location. The IAS was already headquartered in Curacao and it made sense to designate Curacao the home port of the new ship. Essentially, the new ship would serve as an IAS office and fundraising center. Scientologists who visited the ship would be squeezed for IAS donations.

The undertaking to find, purchase, staff, and renovate a suitable ship was called the Ship Project, with the IAS fundraising from 1985 to 1988 to pay for the initial costs. In 1986, the Ship Project was taken over by the Flag Ship Trust. A most curious entity, the Flag Ship Trust had no jurisdiction and could only be contacted in care of Whitman & Ransom in London:

The Flag Ship Trust purchased the Bohème in September 1986. However, the way in which Scientology purchased and took ownership of the vessel was dodgy. For example, the Church of Scientology told the IRS in 1992 that the Freewinds had a mortgage on it:

[The] “Freewinds” cruise vessel: this asset has a net book value (cost less depreciation} of $15,295,000 and is subject to a mortgage of $12,500,000 held by Trust for Scientologists. The net equity in the vessel is thus $2,795,000. The vessel is owned by San Donato Properties Corporation and is chartered to Majestic Cruise Lines Inc. Its home port is Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, and it sails primarily in the Caribbean.

San Donato Properties Corporation is a Panamanian Corporation and a subsidiary of Transcorp Services S.A. In turn, Transcorp Services S.A is owned by the Flag Ship Trust. Thus, it appears that the Flag Ship Trust conveyed ownership of the Freewinds to San Donato Properties Corporation in such a way that resulted in a $12,500,000 mortgage on the ship. This was simply moving a Scientology asset from one pocket to another in order to create a mortgage and a new owner. All of these offshore machinations created legal barriers behind which Scientology was shielded.

The new Advanced Organization created to manage and deliver OT 8 was named the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO). One of the initial goals of the Ship Project was to find Sea Org members who were professionally qualified to serve in key FSSO positions aboard the new ship. On the Apollo, which was classed as a private yacht, Commodore Hubbard could appoint a person Captain based solely upon their past life experiences of having captained ships. However, David Miscavige and the FSSO had a different situation. The Freewinds is classed as a cruise ship and had to meet the standards of maritime law for cruise ships. Miscavige had to find a professional Captain, navigators, electricians, deck hands, mechanics, chefs, and trained engineers for the engine room. The crew of the Freewinds had to be Sea Org as well because the FSSO is a Sea Org Org. Mike Napier was a public Scientologist who had captained ships and had masters papers. He was recruited into the Sea Org as were other qualified people. The crew of the Freewinds constitutes the FSSO. The ship itself serves as the FSSO Base.

The FSSO can also be called the CSFSSO (Church of Scientology the Flag Ship Service Organization). In its 1992 IRS application for tax exemption, Scientology made it abundantly clear to the IRS that both the Flag Ship Trust and the CSFSSO keep and bank all of their money outside of the US.

The Church of Scientology Flag Ship Service organization (CSFSSO) was incorporated in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles as a non-profit foundation in April 1988. It commenced activities on 1 May 1988, shortly before the maiden voyage of the Freewinds on 6 June 1988. Its procedures for handling its receipts, discussed below, have applied since its inception and remain unchanged today.

CSFSSO does not have, nor has it ever had, a United States bank account. None of its income has ever been banked in the U.S. CSFSSO has never provided any religious goods or services to its parishioners within the United States; rather, these activities are conducted entirely outside the U.S., from aboard the M.V. Freewinds.

CSFSSO has local bank accounts in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, the home port of the Freewinds. CSFSSO also has U.S. dollar and foreign currency accounts in Luxembourg. CSFSSO accepts payments and donations via major credit cards (e.g. Visa and Mastercard), which are deposited in its local accounts in Curacao.|

Parishioners in the U.S. who wish to make donations to CSFSSO for religious services usually send payment by check or credit card debit to CSFSSO via the Church of Scientology Freewinds Relay Office, located in Clearwater, Florida. This is a practical expedient because the Freewinds is usually at sea in the Caribbean and its exact location for mail purposes varies. The Relay Office collects all mail and other communications destined for the Freewinds. Any currency intended for CSFSSO is converted into a U.S. dollar draft or money order; cash is never sent abroad in a mailpack because of the risk of theft or other loss. Every week, the Relay Office forwards all mail, including checks and credit card invoices, to Curacao. If the Freewinds is not in port, the mailpack is collected by a Ship’s representative and delivered to the Ship as soon as it arrives. All checks are invoiced by CSFSSO on-board the Freewinds and is deposited into local bank accounts in Curacao, as noted above.

In that same 1992 IRS filing Scientology also told the IRS about Scientologists having bounced checks:

One wonders what sort of hellish Ethics handlings OT 7’s faced when their “postulate checks” for OT 8 bounced. This amusing admission that some Scientologists write bad checks shows us that Scientology follows up to collect on them.

When the Church of Scientology took delivery of its new ship in 1986, an intense 20-month period of renovations began. Deadly blue asbestos on the ship was discovered during this period. Former Sea Org member and architect Lawrence Woodcraft wrote an affidavit on this matter in 2001. Woodcraft describes the extensive amounts of asbestos aboard the ship. An excerpt of the Woodcraft Affidavit is quite revealing about Scientology’s attitude regarding asbestos:

No one on the ship knew anything about asbestos, nor did they care… Around this time Bitty Miscavige visited the ship. She was the Church executive with overall responsibility for the ship project. I went to her and took copies of the ship’s blueprints and showed her the full extent of asbestos on the ship. At first she was calm, but as I further explained the dangers, she begun to realize that it was a problem. We had a meeting to discuss the problem of asbestos. Steve Kisacky stated that L. Ron Hubbard doesn’t state in policy that asbestos is dangerous; he only states that fiberglass is dangerous and therefore we are only removing the fiberglass. In fact, the dock next to the Freewinds was piled high with fiberglass that had been removed by Sea Org members. It was explained to me that the ship was being remodeled only according to the written policies and “advices” of L. Ron Hubbard. Since Hubbard had been in the US Navy and had then founded the Sea Org and had run a fleet of ships, he knew everything about ships. If asbestos was dangerous, he would have written this somewhere. Also Hubbard knew everything about cancer. He had written that cancer was caused by the mind and specifically second dynamic aberration (problems with relationships). I was told that people only get sick if they go into “agreement” with being sick. As the ship was going to be filled with “operating thetans” doing the highest level in Scientology (OT 8) nothing was going to make them sick. I was being a “wog” (non-scientologist) worrying about a little thing like asbestos.

International Management having decreed that Sea Org members and OTVIII’s were impervious to asbestos and mesothelioma, the renovations and crew recruitment continued apace. Scientology management’s view of asbestos offers us yet more evidence into how Scientology thinks and acts with wanton and flagrant disregard for the well-being of its members.

In our next installment we look at the immediate events leading up the Maiden Voyage of the MV Freewinds.


Declaration of Lawrence Woodcraft

Lawrence Woodcraft Affidavit about Asbestos on the Freewinds - January 24, 2001