After the ship was quarantined on April 26, the Curaçao Drydock Company was contracted to carry out refurbishment and repairs. The contamination was so extensive that the company decided that the risk to its workers was too great, and ceased operations. At that point Scientology sent a team of its "Sea Org" internal paramilitary force to clean the ship themselves. They are bringing the blue asbestos by the truckload to dump at the island's Selikor landfill site at Malpais.
Incredibly, top leaders of the Scientology cult were informed of the pervasive contamination back in 1987, but chose to do 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. Moreover, Scientologists believe that high-level Sea Org members cannot get cancer or any other disease.
Meanwhile, Scientology continues to promote cruises on the Freewinds, receiving large cash advances from Scientologist prospective passengers, who have been informed only that the ship is going through an ordinary refurbishment. Already, the cult has missed several planned sailing dates, but it continues to seek funds for voyages in the near future. According to Radar Online, the cult has scheduled conventions starting in July and running through November.
On May 1, the cult's spokesperson lied to Radar Online with the following "spin":
"The next cruise is scheduled for Thursday, May 8. Inspections done on April 15, 2008 and April 28, 2008 again confirmed that the air quality is safe, in accordance with the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Clean Air Act." None of this, of course, was true.
The cult's promotional materials give further information about Scientology's advance-booking scheme:
"The new conventions calendar aboard the brand new Freewinds is out and we are looking forward to seeing you aboard! Look over the different conventions and let me know which convention(s) you plan to attend."
Yet all the extremely hazardous "cleaning" of the blue asbestos may be in vain. According to officials in the Netherlands' Ministry of Environment, which dealt with an asbestos-laden ship in 2006 that was eventually demolished, the cost to make Freewinds safe for passengers, if it is even possible, may run into many millions of Euros/dollars, probably more than the ship itself is worth.
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.
Many Scientologist celebrities have spent time aboard the Freewinds, including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Suri Cruise, 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. Scientology has official "religion" status in the USA, which means that it is exempt from paying taxes, and that its members can declare any Scientology-related expense as tax-deductible.
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.
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