guides & articles

Related listings

Latest Postings

Subscribe to the hottest news, latest promotions & discounts from STClassifieds & our partners

I agree to abide by STClassifieds Terms and Conditions

Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Historic ship finally finds a new home - in Bintan

S'porean getting 100-year-old vessel turned into a hotel on resort island
The Straits Times - September 22, 2014
By: Melissa Lin
| More
Historic ship finally finds a new home - in Bintan The ship is getting refurbished at Batam but its heritage will be preserved. The renovation will cost $20 million to $25 million and is expected to be completed next March. The vessel is seen here docked in Singapore in 2009. -- TNP FILE PHOTO

WHEN Singaporean businessman Eric Saw saved the world's oldest passenger ship from the scrapyard in 2010, he wanted to turn it into a floating hotel here.

All he needed, he thought, was three months to get approval from the authorities and finalise a site, and the retrofitting of the ship could begin.

After all, the MV Doulos was not just any other ship.

Launched in 1914, two years after the ill-fated Titanic sank, it has survived two world wars and transported everything from onions and books to pilgrims and first-class passengers.

Its colourful history, thought Mr Saw, was a good fit with Singapore's maritime past.

"I started naively," the 63- year-old, who also owns floating restaurant Stewords Riverboat at Marina South Pier, told The Straits Times. It was not easy finding a spot for the 130m-long, eight-deck-high vessel in land- scarce Singapore, he said.

It was not until three years and at least 10 proposal rejections later that the 100-year-old vessel found a new home away from Singapore's shores - on the Indonesian resort island of Bintan.

This was after Bintan Resorts International, which manages popular tourist spots on the island's northern coast, agreed to turn the vessel into a land-berthed hotel.

The piece of maritime history will be permanently located on a 1.4ha site a stone's throw away from Bintan Resorts Ferry Terminal.

The ship is getting refurbished at Batam but its heritage will be preserved, Mr Saw said. The renovation will cost between $20 million and $25 million, and is expected to be completed next March.

"Without its history, the Doulos is just another ship," Mr Saw said in an hour-long interview last Thursday after the hotel's ground-breaking ceremony on Bintan.

He hopes to have a soft launch of the hotel around September or October next year, with a grand opening during Christmas.

The engine room will be left largely untouched and turned into a maritime museum. The eight decks will be refurbished to reflect the ship's different eras, from its beginnings as an onion carrier to its last role as a floating bookstore.

Artefacts which vary from clothes hangers and lamps to tabletops and an antiquated toilet flush system will be displayed along the corridors. A piano lounge, swimming pool, banquet hall and restaurant will surround the 100- cabin ship-hotel on land.

Mr Saw knew of the ship when it was a floating bookstore sailing around the world selling books at low prices.

"My family and I would go on board and buy books whenever it came to Singapore. We made friends with the crew," he said. "Little did I know that one day we would be the new stewards of the ship."

It did not cross his mind to buy the ship until his friends invited him on a joint venture to turn it into a floating church. Eventually, they pulled out, but he persisted.

He paid €900,000 (about $2 million in 2010) to buy the ship from German-based Christian charity GBA Ships. He renamed the ship Doulos Phos, which means "servant light" in Greek.

The ship's sailing days ended in 2010 after a new international maritime law barred vessels built with combustible material from sailing. Doulos is partly made of wood.

But finding a home for the ship was not smooth-sailing. Proposals to government agencies and private organisations were rejected one after another.

"The government agencies told us openly that land is scarce. We got the hint," Mr Saw said with a laugh.

Although he was frustrated, it helped that his family - wife Alice, 54, and three children: Daryl, 27, Elizabeth, 24, and Veronica, 19 - was supportive, he said.

He hopes to continue the ship's charitable mission.

"One hundred per cent of the profits from the hotel will go towards charity," he said.


Careers in the arts sector drawing the young