After a busy month or so during which I didn’t write anything at all for this blog, I hope that I can return to at least a semi-regular posting schedule now that I have a bit more free time. I believe our postal carrier is also on holiday as we haven’t received any mail at my apartment building for a couple of weeks. It is very common for workers to return to their families in their hometowns during April as we near next week’s Thai New Year (Songkran). Thailand Post doesn’t have enough manpower to cover routes when the regular postman takes time off (or leaves completely!). At any rate, I still have a backlog of postcards to write about…
I’ve been interested in all things nautical for many years – ever since becoming fascinated with the Titanic disaster when I was around ten years old. Throughout most of my life, I lived in fairly land-locked places – Tennessee, Kansas, New Mexico – but was able to see boats and ships during family trips, the first of which included a day on the old Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary while in Long Beach, California, circa 1972. The first time I visited London, I hopped on an early morning train bound for Southampton as I’d learnt the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was in port. Upon moving to Phuket, I was thrilled to discover the variety of watercraft to be found along the coastlines of the island and that it was occasionally visited by the odd cruise ship for passenger liners were always my favorite.
In late May 2006, the world’s oldest still-active passenger liner docked at the Port of Phuket in Makham Bay in the southeast portion of the island for a month-long visit in it’s role as a floating book fair. My then-wife and I paid the ship a visit one afternoon; I didn’t come away with any books but I did take a lot of photos and I bought the two postcards pictured above.
The MV Doulos – as she was then known – had been constructed at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Virginia and was launched as SS Medina of the Mallory Steamship Company on 22 August 1914. The 410-foot long ship was originally a freighter plying the Atlantic Ocean trade and later served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. In 1948, she was sold to a Panamanian company, renamed SS Roma and converted to a passenger ship with cabins for 287 people and dormitories for another 694 passengers. After just five years, she was sold to the Italian Costa Line and converted from a steamship into a motor vessel renamed MV Franca C. Initially carrying passengers between Italy and Argentina, the Franca C was converted into a cruise liner in 1959, primarily sailing in the Mediterranean.
In 1977, the ship was purchased by Gute Bücher für Alle and renamed MV Doulos. Manned by a Christian volunteer crew and registered in Valetta, Malta, she began calling at ports worldwide as the world’s largest floating library. She normally had between three and five thousand books on her shelves and another half million in the hold. During her 2006 visit to Phuket, many local schools made field trips to the port so that students could purchase inexpensive books. Many local food vendors set up stalls on the quay down the length of the ship.
She was set to return to Phuket in 2009 but mechanical problems forced a return to Singapore where she normally had an annual maintenance period. During a survey, it was found that there were significant structural and mechanical problems and it was decided to withdraw the Doulos from service and she was sold to a Singaporean company that plans to preserve the historic ship. She has been renamed Doulos Phos and was towed to Batam, Indonesia, in September 2013 to be refurbished to eventually become part of a hotel resort at the island of Bintan.
Postcards ©OM Ships International
Photos taken by Mark Jochim in Phuket, Thailand 11 June 2006