MV Doulos Phos

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MV Doulos 2004 at Southampton.jpg
The Doulos at Southampton, England in 2004.
United States
Name: SS Medina[1]

Mallory Steamship Company (1914–1932)

Clyde-Mallory Line (1932–1948)[2]
Ordered: 28 August 1913[3]
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company[1]
Yard number: 176[1]
Laid down: 21 January 1914
Launched: 22 August 1914[3]
Sponsored by: Frances Stuart Semmes
Christened: 22 August 1914
Acquired: 29 September 1914[1]
Commissioned: 29 September 1914[3]
Fate: Transferred to Cia Naviera San Miguel SA, 1948[3]
Name: SS Roma[3]
Operator: Cia Naviera San Miguel SA[3]
Acquired: 1948[3]
Fate: Transferred to Costa Lines, 1953[3]
Name: MS Franca C[3]
Operator: Costa Lines[3]
Port of registry: Genoa,  Italy[3]
Acquired: 1953[3]
Fate: Transferred to Gute Bücher für Alle, 1977[3]
Name: MV Doulos[3]
Operator: Gute Bücher für Alle[3]
Port of registry: Valletta,  Malta[3]
Acquired: 1977[3]
Fate: Transferred to BizNaz Resources International Pte Ltd, 2010[3]
Notes: Her name means "Servant" in Greek.
Name: MV Doulos Phos[3]
Operator: BizNaz Resources International Pte Ltd[3]
Port of registry: Valletta,  Malta[3]
Acquired: 2010[3]
Fate: Hotel Ship[3]
Notes: Her name means "Servant Light" in Greek.
General characteristics (as built)
Tonnage: 5,426 GRT
Length: 410 feet
Beam: 54 feet
Height: 54 feet
Draught: 18.2 feet
Installed power:

Single triple-expansion engine, 4 coal-fired boilers, 4,100 hp shaft power[4]

(Converted to oil 1922)
Speed: 14 knots
General characteristics (1949 onwards)
  • 6,822 GRT (1960)
  • 6,549 GRT (1984)
  • 6,818 GRT (2009)
Speed: 15 knots
Capacity: 414
Crew: 350

The ship currently known as the Doulos Phos, The Ship Hotel [6] held the record of being the world's oldest active ocean-faring passenger ship until December 2009, having travelled the world's oceans from the time of her building in 1914 until being retired from cruising service at the end of 2009. She is now owned by Eric Saw, director and chief executive of BizNaz Resources International Pte Ltd in Singapore.[7] She was previously operated by the German charity Gute Bücher für Alle (Good Books for All), and was used as a floating bookshop. The ship has previously been known as the SS Medina, the SS Roma, the MS Franca C, and the MV Doulos. The Doulos ended her final cruise in late 2009 at Singapore, with the ship being handed over to her new owners on 18 March 2010. The ship's conversion into a luxury hotel was still ongoing during 2017[8]and 2018.[6]

Cargo ship era[edit]

On 28 August 1913, a contract for two steel freight steamships was signed by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company and the Mallory Steamship Company of the United States. "The vessel will be a single screw steamship of the hurricane deck type with straight stem and elliptical stern, and with deck houses amidship and aft for the crew accommodations...." The original specifications referred to the vessels as hulls No. 175 and No. 176. Hull No. 175 would eventually be named SS Neches and hull No. 176 became SS "Medina".[4] (Neches would be lost in a collision with British warship in 1918.)[9] The full contract for the vessels filled a 186-page volume and included the fittings commonly used in a ship for her era and also provision for tropical itineraries – mosquito nets for the crew quarters. The keel for hull No. 176 was laid on 21 January 1914 and officially became the SS Medina when she was christened just a few months later on 22 August 1914. Her sponsor was 15-year-old Frances Stuart Semmes, daughter of the then-mayor of Newport News.[4]

Medina was in a high stage of completion when launched, for she was delivered just five weeks later on 29 September 1914. Total elapsed time, from keel laying until delivery, was less than nine months. One reason for the rapidity of construction was due to the normal work week at the shipyard, which in those days was 50 hours a week (in 1913, the regular work week was six, ten-hour days, but that proved impractical because of limited daylight hours during the wintertime.)[4]

As built she measured 421 feet long and displaced 9,245 tons. At the time of her completion Medina was fitted with four coal-fired boilers and a single, triple-expansion engine rated at 4,100 shaft horsepower. Her top speed was listed as 14 knots. Her sister ship SS Neches was completed first and apparently her sea trials went so well that Medina did not have to undergo similar testing.[4]

SS Medina passing the Statue of Liberty on her maiden voyage

The Mallory Steamship Company first utilised Medina for transporting onions from east Texas to her home port, New York City. On occasion, she also called on Mexican ports. In the September 1914 issue of International Marine Engineering, she was referred to as "One of the most modern and largest freight steamships operating on the Atlantic coast." When World War I broke out, she became a supply ship for the US Army, but was placed under the operational control of the US Navy. In August 1918, Medina was the Commodore's Flagship in a convoy of about twenty ships en route to Europe. During that arduous voyage, two ships in her convoy were torpedoed, but Medina escaped without harm.[4]

In 1922, she was modernised and her boilers converted to burn oil. Ten years later, the Mallory Steamship Company merged with another shipping firm and became known as the Clyde-Mallory Lines. After 1935, Medina spent some time under charter to the Cuba Mail Line, in service between New York and several Caribbean ports.[4]

During World War II she served once again as a military supply ship. During her second stint of wartime service Medina rammed a Canadian corvette class naval vessel almost cutting it in half while Medina apparently suffered little damage as the result of this mishap.[4]

After World War II, Medina once again returned to civilian ownership. Faced with ready access to numerous and more modern vessels, her owners had the freighter laid up and placed for sale on the open market. With now over thirty years of service it was anticipated that she would be purchased by a ship breaker. However, she was acquired in 1948 by the Italian company Genaviter.[4]

Passenger ship conversion[edit]

In 1949 Genaviter converted Medina to a passenger vessel in La Spezia, Italy. Her bridge was lifted up one deck,[10] her superstructure was enlarged extensively and her tall black funnel was replaced with a more modern-looking one. She was given a raked bow, and accommodations for up to 981 passengers were added, including 287 First Class passengers. However, her 694 Tourist Class passengers were berthed in basic dormitory style spaces. Upon completion she was given a new name, SS Roma.[4] In 1950, Roma was chartered to the "International Roman Catholic Travel Committee" and undertook a series of four Pilgrimage voyages from America to Italy. Then, her owners decided to try her out on the Australian immigrant service. In early October 1950, she embarked 949 refugees; the vast majority of whom were from Eastern Europe countries. Most of her passengers had survived World War II, and were seeking a more peaceful life in Australia. The long voyage from Europe to Australia proved difficult for both passengers and crew. Many of her passengers suffered severe sea sickness, and her crew was kept busy dealing with numerous mechanical problems during the long voyage. Her slow rate of progress required a stop in Ceylon for repairs and also to take on additional provisions and fuel oil. Roma finally arrived at her destination on 18 December 1950, after a full two months at sea. But that was only the beginning of the ship's difficulties. Her owners abruptly declared bankruptcy, leaving the crew left without pay for almost three months. Finally, the Italian Consulate came to the rescue and arranged a charter of the SS Roma with another Italian shipping company, Lloyd Triestino.[11] Upon her return to Italy, she was arrested due to her debts to the shipyard who had converted her from a freighter to a passenger ship. At this point, she was 36 years old and her steam propulsion machinery – which was not replaced during the passenger ship conversion – was in bad shape. Once again, she was laid up, and her future looked very bleak. In April 1952, Roma was sold at auction to the only bidder present; another Italian shipping company, Costa Lines.[4]

History as MS Franca C[edit]

Costa Lines registered the vessel in Genoa and renamed her Franca C. Costa then had her converted for use as a South American and Caribbean liner. Her steam propulsion machinery was replaced with a diesel engine that could develop 4,200 Shaft Horse Power which gave the ship a speed of 15 knots. Further additions to her superstructure were made and her funnel was again modernised and included a Costa Lines' logo: a large "C" painted on both sides. This conversion work was completed in January 1953 and on the last day of that month the MS Franca C left Italy on her first voyage for Costa[4] to Venezuela.[12]

For the next several years, she made regularly scheduled trips between Italy, and Central and South America. In 1957, her funnel was modified yet again, by adding a pipe-like extension to help keep diesel fumes and smoke away from her open passenger decks, aft. In 1959 she was withdrawn from the trans-Atlantic trade and transformed into an all first class cruise ship, operating out of Genoa. An important part of her transformation was the addition of air conditioning throughout the 45-year-old vessel. As a one-class cruise ship, her number of passenger berths was reduced to 552, and all her passenger cabins were fitted with private baths. In addition, her original main mast was removed and a swimming pool installed in her aft-most cargo hold. Then, she was based in Miami during the winter months and marketed as the "New M/S FRANCA C Happy-Go-Luxury Cruise to the West Indies". During the summer months, she returned to Europe to participate in the Mediterranean cruise trade. During the mid-1960s, she twice returned to her birthplace at Newport News for dry docking, underwater repair work and below waterline repainting. Franca C continued cruising until 1970. By then the ship was 56 years old, and her owners had begun to think seriously about taking her out of service and selling her for scrap. But her all-riveted hull was still in excellent condition and her first diesel engine had been replaced just a few years previously with a newer and larger diesel engine rated at 8,100 Shaft Horse Power.[13]

Franca C at sea.

A decision was made to keep Franca C in service, and during a brief overhaul many of her passenger spaces were refurbished internally. On 4 February 1971, she began a series of 14-day cruises in the Mediterranean. In 1974 she returned to the Caribbean and made a series of three and four-day cruises to Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and Margarita. Franca C returned to Europe at the conclusion of the 1977 Mediterranean cruise season and her owners once again contemplated ending her career. Most ocean-going vessels remain in service for 30 to 40 years. At age 63, it was logically assumed by most maritime observers that she would be scrapped. However, certain passengers on the ship's very last cruise had other plans for the ship.[4]

History as MV Doulos[edit]

Several representatives from Operation Mobilization-a Christian charity organisation were on board during her last cruise under Costa Lines' ownership, looking for a ship suitable for their operations. Franca C was still in excellent condition and they considered her well suited for their purposes. In addition, her asking price was less than one million USD. On 4 November 1977, her ownership was transferred to GBA (which stands for Gute Bucher fur Alle, or Good Books for All), an affiliate of a German Christian organisation whose primary mission is to distribute heavily discounted educational and religious books worldwide.

GBA renamed her M/V Doulos and taken to Bremen, Germany,[14] to modify her for a new career as a floating bookshop and Christian ministry. The casino was removed and replaced by several offices, classrooms and conference facilities. Her pool was also removed and a huge book store installed in its place. On 3 June 1978 Doulos commenced her fourth career at the age of 64. She would continue in ocean going service for almost 32 more years, with an all-volunteer crew and staff between 320–350. Funding for this operation was donated by churches, community groups, and corporations.[4]

Terrorist attack
On 11 August 1991, during the final night of the MV Doulos' stop in the southern Philippine port of Zamboanga City, two of her foreign crewmembers were killed when a grenade thrown by members of the Abu Sayyaf Islamist terrorist group[15] exploded on stage during a performance by its Christian volunteers.[16] Four locals were killed[17] and 32 others were injured, including several crew members of the missionary ship.[16]

In 1993, after her initial fifteen years of such service, it became apparent that some significant repair work was needed to keep her sailing safely. That work commenced in May of that year, in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 170 volunteers flew there from four continents to minimize the cost of what was dubbed "the electrical project". That effort involved replacing much of the ship's original DC electrical system and replacing it with a modern AC system. A number of other major modifications and hull repairs were also made during this refit period. She left Cape Town in mid-November, refreshed and ready to continue her missionary work. In 1995, in order to conform to then new SOLAS regulations, she was fitted with a sprinkler system and combustible wall panels were removed and replaced. This unfortunately meant the loss of many of her wall murals that had been installed by Costa.[10]

In 2006, while in Bahrain, a new satellite system was installed and fitted in a dome aft of her funnel, providing her with twenty-first century communication and navigation systems.

Statistics as MV Doulos[5]

Total visitors 21,461,212
Programme attendance 3,500,898
Books sold 1,513,446
Nautical miles sailed 358,121
Total ports visited 603
Countries and territories visited 104
Different ports visited 297


In the fall of 2009, Doulos was placed in dry dock in Singapore. Her riveted hull was determined to be still in remarkably good condition, with plate thicknesses exceeding those of modern ships. However, a survey conducted by the ship's classification society RINA found numerous significant problems and works with the ship's machinery, structure, and systems that would need to have been completed by 31 December 2009 for the ship's certificates to be reissued and the ship to continue sailing. Because the shipyard servicing the Doulos would not accept the ship for repairs until September 2010, and the cost of the work would be a total in excess of 10 million euros, and the limited ministry that Doulos would have after the repairs, it was decided to end Doulos Ministry at the end of 2009, instead of 2010 as originally planned.[4] When the ship's operational certificate ran out on 31 December 2009, her owners made the difficult decision to replace Doulos with a more modern vessel, the Logos Hope, which was compliant with SOLAS 2010. Her books and crew were transferred to the new ship and she was offered for scrap.[4] A caretaker crew remained with Doulos,[7] expecting to sail her to the breakers.[18]

New owners[edit]

On 18 March 2010, Doulos again escaped the breakers and had a new owner, Mr. Eric Saw, director and chief executive of BizNaz Resources International Pte Ltd in Singapore.[19] She was renamed Doulos Phos or Servant of Light with the intent of transforming her into a floating multi-use facility in Singapore. Over the next five years, her current owners came to the conclusion that was not economically feasible.[19]

In 2015, her current owners formed a joint venture with two well-established Asian firms in the resort business and concluded that it was both economically and physically feasible to reposition Doulos Phos on land and turn her into a luxury hotel. That August the ship was towed out of Singapore to Batam, Indonesia, to be refurbished before moving to the Island of Bintan to become part of a US$25 million hotel resort. In October 2015 she went into drydock, where her hull was refurbished.[20] Steel reinforcement bracing was added inside her hull to support her weight on dry land.[19] She was then towed to a location adjacent to the Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal. Using a system of pulling cables and air bags,[21]the ship was hoisted onto the promontory point.[6] This marked the end of her career as a floating ship.

Hotel conversion[edit]

Early concept rendering of Doulos Phos as a luxury hotel.

In February 2016 the ship was officially renamed Doulos Phos, The Ship Hotel and began conversion into a luxury hotel.[22] The conversion is expected to retain the ship's bridge and engine room as part of the Maritime Heritage Museum.[23] Decks A and B will be used as the hotel. Two restaurants capable of seating 250 people each will be located on the Promenade deck (where her dining room originally was) and the boat deck. Other future amenities include a deli, café, wine and juice bars, a bookshop, banquet hall, meeting rooms, and a bible school. An amphitheater seating up to 70 people has been proposed.[24] Originally scheduled to open in late 2016, workers and heavy equipment were still on the site in November 2017.[25] As of January 2019 a Bintan tourism site listed the Doulos Phos as a hotel "coming soon".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Colton, Tim. "Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News VA". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Fleet List: Mallory Line / Clyde-Mallory Line". TheShipsList. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Doulos History". Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Lee, Bill. "SS Medina NNS Hull #176...95 Years of Service...and Counting! (2010)" (PDF). Newport News Apprentice Alumni Association. Newport News Apprentice Alumni Association. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Previous Ships – Doulos". GBA Ships e.V. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d "Coming soon..Doulos Phos, The Ship Hotel". Bintan Resorts International Pte. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b Kenego, Peter (6 January 2013). "Decking DOULOS PHOS, Part Three". Maritime Matters. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  8. ^ Varko, Lydia (July 30, 2017). "New resorts and islands to explore in nearby Bintan". The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  9. ^ "Fleets of the Mallory Line / Clyde-Mallory Line". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  10. ^ a b Gossens, Reuben. "M/V Doulos – Chapter 7 – SOLAS 1995". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  11. ^ Goossens, Reuben (2010). "From Onions to Passengers – SS Roma – 1948 – 1953". Reuben Goossens. Reuben Goossens. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  12. ^ "History of Costa Cruises – 1952 – A New Route to South Amecica". Costa Cruises. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  13. ^ Gossens, Ruben. "M/V Doulos – A Ship Like No Other – M/S Franca C Part IV". SS Maritime. Reuben Goossens of SS Maritime. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Doulos History". OM Ships International. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  15. ^ "Abu Sayyaf kidnappings, bombings and other attacks". GMA News. 23 August 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  16. ^ a b Debbie Meroff. "In His Majesty's Service: A Salute to the MV Doulos". OM International. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  17. ^ Eliza Griswold. "Waging Peace in the Philippines". Smithsonian. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  18. ^ Kengo, Peter (23 December 2012). "Decking DOULOS PHOS, Part Two: DOULOS". Maritime Matters. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  19. ^ a b c Lee, Bill (May 2016). "UPDATE – SS MEDINA" (PDF). Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice Alumni. Newport News Apprentice Alumni. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Restoration of the MV Doulos Phos". Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  21. ^ Chesare, Julia (31 October 2015). "1914-Built DOULOS PHOS on the Beach". Maritime Matters. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  22. ^ "Book ship Doulos turned into hotel on land". Free Malaysia Today News. 16 February 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  23. ^ Tham, E-lyn (16 February 2016). "All Aboard! Luxurious Ship-Hotel Set to Open in Bintan". Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  24. ^ "World's Quirkiest Hotel". MSN. 16 February 2016.
  25. ^ "The Legendary Ship MV Doulos Phos is Stuck in Bintan. Here's the Story (November 30, 2017)". Tribun Batan. Retrieved 10 January 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]