Thu, Mar 15, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Ahoy me hearties! Look sharp and borrow a book

'MV Doulos,' the world's oldest passenger ship and biggest floating library, is anchored off Kaohsiung until May 10

By David Chang  /  DPA , KAOHSIUNG

A child opens a book aboard MV Doulos, docked inside the South Harbor in Manila, Philippines, in January.

PHOTO: DPA

With paint peeling from its smoke-stained side, MV Doulos, the world's oldest active passenger ship and largest floating library, has sailed into Kaohsiung Harbour to spread the gospel and knowledge to Taiwan's residents.

Carrying 500,000 books and 320 volunteers from 54 countries, the 93-year-old ship is still going at full steam, even though it will be retired by 2010.

Since docking at the Kaohsiung Harbor on Saturday, MV Doulos has been receiving about 10,000 visitors a day. Most came out of curiosity, with some wanting to buy books.

Hou You-ming, 23, a graduate school student at the National Kaohsiung Marine University, came to buy books on shipbuilding.

"I know the ship's aim is to spread the gospel, but that doesn't affect me because I am an atheist," he said as other visitors squeezed past him.

The bookstore occupies one deck of the ship. About 90 percent of the books are in English.

MV Doulos' was built as a freighter named SS Medina in the US in 1914, two years after the Titanic.

In 1948 it was converted into a passenger ship called the Roma, and in 1952 became a cruise liner called The Franca C.

In 1977, German charitable trust Good Books for All (GBA) bought the ship and renamed it MV Doulos, the Greek word for "servant." Since then, GBA's subsidiary Operation Mobilization (OM), a Christian missionary group, has sent the ship to 104 countries "to bring knowledge, help and hope" to the local people.

OM recruits young Christians through its local offices and trains them for the two-year service on the ship.

A volunteer must be a Christian, over 18, know English and must make a monthly donation to the ship. The donations vary depending on the volunteer's nationality. A Taiwanese volunteer must donate US$20,000 per month.

One-third of the ship's operation costs comes from book sales, one-third from volunteers' donations and one-third from public donations.

Jack Chu, a volunteer from New Zealand and the ship's press officer, said OM has never clashed with any country. On the contrary, it has received some interesting reactions from some countries.

"For example, we knew Saudi Arabia was very conservative, so we did not plan to go there. But Saudi Arabia's embassy in Germany approached GBA, asking why MV Doulos had not visited Saudi Arabia."

Since 1977, MV Doulos has sailed to 104 countries — some several times — and docked at 500 ports. Nearly 20 million people have visited the ship.

The daily number of visitors ranges from the record 24,200 people at Taiwan's Taichung Harbor in August 1988 to seven visitors at a Japanese port several years ago.

The best-selling book is the Bible.

"On the whole, the Bible has been the best-selling book because we have 20 editions of it, the quality is better and the price lower," Chu said.

"But if you analyze daily sales, it varies from country to country. For example, when we were visiting the United Arab Emirates, the best-selling book was something like 100 tips on nutrition."

Living on a spartan menu of bread and jam for breakfast and tuna salad sandwiches and soup for lunch and supper, the volunteers are compensated by their colorful spiritual and intellectual life.

"We never get bored because there is so much going on. When we finish our eight-hour shift, we can join training classes to learn performing, chat with fellow volunteers or get off the ship and visit the city," Chu said.

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