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Historic ship finally finds a new home - in BintanS'porean getting 100-year-old vessel turned into a hotel on resort island
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.
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