102-year-old ship being turned into Bintan hotel

Doulos Phos The Hotel hopes to open by Christmas or early next year. Old wash basins and frames of bunk beds will find new homes in the refurbished ship, which used to transport onions and first-class passengers, and even served as a floating booksho
Doulos Phos The Hotel hopes to open by Christmas or early next year. Old wash basins and frames of bunk beds will find new homes in the refurbished ship, which used to transport onions and first-class passengers, and even served as a floating bookshop for 32 years.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ERIC SAW

Singapore businessman who saved it from scrapyard battled to find it a permanent home

Built in the United States in 1914, the MV Doulos has held the record for being the world's oldest active ocean-faring passenger ship, transported onions and first-class passengers around the world and even served as a floating bookshop.

Now, the vessel has been transformed into a hotel, thanks to a Singaporean businessman who spent $2 million to save it from the scrapyard in 2010.

It has finally found a permanent home on dry land at a 1.4ha site beside the Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan, Indonesia, an hour away from Singapore.

Mr Eric Saw, 64, director of local food and beverage company Source Ed-Ventures, which operates floating restaurant Stewords Riverboat, hopes to open the hotel by Christmas or early next year.

It will have a maritime museum, swimming pool, library, spa, piano lounge and an amphitheatre.

THE PERFECT SITE

As I look back, I realise all my worries and concerns were unfounded. People have been telling me it is now on the perfect site. If it was in Singapore, the costs would have been much higher.

MR ERIC SAW, director of local food and beverage company Source Ed-Ventures, who plans to donate all the profits from the hotel to charity.

On Friday, the ship was christened Doulos Phos The Hotel. It has retained pieces of its maritime history such as its engine room and bridge, which contains a century- old compass, and will be turned into a museum.

Its old wash basins will find new homes in the hotel's toilets, while frames of bunk beds will be turned into day beds in guestrooms.

On the captain's deck will be the presidential suite - a cabin more than 1,000 sq ft in size boasting a private jacuzzi and barbecue pit.

Its eight decks will be furnished to reflect different periods in the ship's colourful history.

The ship was launched in 1914 as a freighter named Medina, which transported onions before carrying troops and supplies during the two world wars.

It was later renamed Roma and the Franca C, carrying only first- class passengers, before being bought by German-based Christian charity Good Books for All (GBA Ships).

For the next 32 years, the missionary ship, dubbed the world's largest travelling bookstore, carried literature to more than 100 countries, including Singapore.

But in late 2009, when it became too expensive to run and renovate, GBA Ships put it up for sale.

Mr Saw then acquired the ship, renaming it Doulos Phos - which means "servant light" in Greek - with a vision of turning it into a floating hotel here. His vision did not fully materialise as at least 10 of his proposals were rejected by the authorities here.

But in 2013, Bintan Resorts International, which manages popular tourist spots on the island's northern coast, agreed to turn it into a land-berthed hotel.

After refurbishments in Batam, it was towed last October to its permanent spot by three tugboats in a 10-hour journey.

There is still "tons and tons" of work left to do, such as building proper fire escape routes to comply with building codes, and laying pipes and electrical wiring, according to Mr Saw, who spends three days a week in Bintan to oversee the construction.

The cost of the entire project is estimated to be between $20 million and $25 million. All the profits from the hotel will go to charity, said Mr Saw, a Christian.

He is confident the hotel will become an icon in Bintan Resorts, where Singaporeans form the biggest visitor market.

It has not been an easy journey for him. The project's completion was delayed year after year due to complications such as the need for land reclamation and an environment study to ensure that no marine life was harmed during its construction.

Mr Saw said there were days when he wondered if the project was all a waste of time: "As I look back, I realise all my worries and concerns were unfounded.

"People have been telling me it is now on the perfect site. If it was in Singapore, the costs would have been much higher."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline '102-year-old ship being turned into Bintan hotel'. Print Edition | Subscribe