Blue asbestos is the most dangerous kind of asbestos, and people exposed to it are at much higher risk of mesothelioma (an especially deadly lung cancer). According to reports from several Caribbean newspapers as well as the shipping news journal Lloyd's List, the Freewinds was sealed on April 26. One Curaçao paper, La Prensa Cur, pointed out that Scientology officials had known about the contamination since at least 2001, yet had done nothing.
Until the 1960s, when the Freewinds was built, blue asbestos was often used in shipbuilding (it was not known at the time to be so carcinogenic). Former Scientologist Lawrence Woodcraft, a licensed architect by profession, supervised interior remodeling work on the ship in 1987 when the cult first purchased it. According to a legal affidavit made after Woodcraft left the cult in 2001, Woodcraft had notified Scientology officials immediately about the widespread blue asbestos and the dangers it posed. The response he received was that he should carry on with the work, and leave the asbestos where it was. Since Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had never mentioned that asbestos was dangerous, they were not going to worry about it. Scientologists believe that disease is caused not by microbes or toxic substances, but by the presence of "suppressive persons" (SPs), or people who disagree with Scientology and its goals.
The ship is used by Scientology for advanced training in "Operating Thetan" levels, for members who have paid fees of between USD$100,000 and $400,000, as well as for tax-deductible Caribbean cruises for its members and their families. Curaçao has been the ship's homeport since it was purchased by Scientology, as it is not permitted to dock in any US port.
Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw responded to "Radar Online" about the asbestos reports, in an email published in an article in Radar on May 1. "The Freewinds regularly inspects the air quality on board and always meets or exceeds US standards," said Pouw. She stated that two inspections performed in April "confirmed that the air quality is safe," and claimed that the inspections revealed the Freewinds satisfies standards set by the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Clean Air Act. Pouw told Radar that "The Freewinds will be completing its refit on schedule." The Church of Scientology-affiliated organization Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) had been planning a cruise aboard the Freewinds scheduled for May 8. As of May 18, the ship was still locked down.
In a May 15 statement to the United Kingdom daily newspaper Metro, a representative for Scientology said that "There is not now and never has been a situation of asbestos exposure on the Freewinds."
"I stand by everything I wrote in my 2001 affidavit," said Lawrence Woodcraft in a statement given to "Wikinews." Woodcraft went on to state: "I would also comment that if the Church of Scientology claims to have removed the blue asbestos, I just don't see how, it's everywhere. You would first have to remove all the pipes, plumbing, a/c ducts, electrical wiring etc. etc. just a maze of stuff. Also panelling as well, basically strip the ship back to a steel hull. Also blue asbestos is sprayed onto the outer walls and then covered in paint. It's in every nook and cranny."
Many Scientologist celebrities have spent time aboard the Freewinds, including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Chick Corea, Lisa Marie Presley, Catherine Bell, Kate Ceberano, and Juliette Lewis. "Now" magazine reported that Tom Cruise has been urged to seek medical attention regarding potential asbestos exposure, however a representative for Cruise stated he has "absolutely no knowledge" of the recent asbestos controversy. Cruise, Holmes, Travolta and Preston have celebrated birthdays and other events on the Freewinds.
Raw blue asbestos is the most hazardous form of asbestos, and has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1970. Blue asbestos fibers are very narrow and thus easily inhaled, and are a major cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer which can develop in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity, the lining of the abdominal cavity, or the pericardium sac surrounding the heart. The cancer is incurable, and can manifest over 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.
"This is the most dangerous type of asbestos because the fibres are smaller than the white asbestos and can penetrate the lung more easily," said toxicologist Dr. Chris Coggins in a statement published in "OK! Magazine." Dr. Coggins went on to note that "Once diagnosed with mesothelioma, the victim has six months to a year to live. It gradually reduces lung function until the victim is no longer able to breathe and dies."
The Scientology cult was founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its primary goal is to "clear the planet" by "obliterating psychiatry." Scientology's many front groups include the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), Criminon, Narconon, and Applied Scholastics. Scientology claims to be the "world's fastest growing religion," with some 8 million members, but mainstream demographic surveys have shown that the number of members is closer to 55,000 worldwide, and declining. Scientology is currently under investigation in several countries for a variety of human rights abuses, including child abuse, violation of child labor laws, kidnapping and running secret internal prison camps, as well as for a number of financial crimes.