The Super-Rich: You Can Run . . .But You Cannot Hide
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Sun May 28 13:46:23 MDT 2000
Freedom Ship 'will be target for terrorists'
Experts warn of crime wave, security crackdown and danger of hostage-taking
on mile-long vessel
Jason Burke, Chief Reporter
The Observer (UK)
Sunday May 28, 2000
It has been billed as a maritime Utopia sailing the seven seas. But security
experts are warning that the 40,000 people who are expected to buy homes on
the mile-long, 300-yard wide Freedom Ship may find life closer to Blade
Runner than The Good Ship Lollipop .
The vessel's very name may prove deeply ironic, for there will be one
security man to every 15 residents, homes will be ringed with electronic
surveillance equipment, the ship's police will have access to firearms, the
captain will have absolute power, and there will be a jail in which to dump
A squad of intelligence officers will monitor threats to security, both from
inside the ship and externally from pirates and terrorists. The ship will be
equipped with 'state-of-the art defensive weapons' to repel attacks and the
system of government sounds remarkably similar to that of some of the
world's least savoury regimes.
Construction is to start later this summer in Honduras. More than 15,000
labourers will work for 24 hours a day to get the ship built by 2003.
Already more than a fifth of the 20,000 residential units, which cost from
£80,000 to £5 million, have been sold, with sales averaging £4.7m a week.
Many have been sold to clients in Britain and Europe. The US businessmen and
engineers behind the project are so confident they are already planning
three more Freedom Ships.
'It is a new lifestyle for this new millennium,' said Roger Gooch, marketing
director of the Freedom Ship.
The promotional literature for the project paints a magnificent picture of a
luxurious tax haven that progresses steadily across the world's oceans,
served by a fleet of light aircraft and speed boats. There will be shops,
parks, concert halls, schools, homes and even a university on board. A huge
duty-free shopping mall will generate significant revenue, it is claimed.
The ship is so big - six times larger than any other vessel ever built -
that a 100ft wave will hardly affect it, the builders say.
The captain will be in a position to enforce the laws of whichever country's
flag under which Gooch and his colleagues decide to sail her. Traditionally,
states such as Panama have provided so-called flags of convenience, though
Gooch said the ship's management were considering two European Union nations
The ship's private security force of 2,000, led by a former FBI agent, will
have access to weapons, both to maintain order within the vessel and to
resist external threats. They can expect to be kept busy, according to
sociologists, maritime security experts, criminologists and intelligence
experts consulted by The Observer last week. 'The ship will have all the
problems of any small city, including crime, outbreaks of disorder, juvenile
delinquency, neighbourhood disputes, everything,' said Mike Bluestone, a
London-based security consultant. 'And the ship will be a prime target for
terrorists. It would be perfectly possible to hold the entire vessel to
ransom by seizing a few well-chosen hostages.'
Residents will be cosmopolitan, and that may not help social cohesion, says
Ivan Horrocks, a security specialist at the Scarman Centre at the University
of Leicester. 'When you create an artificial environment involving people
with very different ethical, cultural, political and legal customs and
values, the potential for tension is very great. It could well be more of a
dystopia than a Utopia,' he said.
But others are more sanguine about the Freedom Ship's prospects. One of the
major attractions of the vessel, according to Gooch, is its freedom from
taxes. Professor Ken Roberts, a sociologist at Liverpool University,
believes that if people merely use the ship as a mobile tax haven, then it
could function socially. 'People who have an international occupational life
might find it attractive, though I do not see people with that kind of money
spending all their lives on a ship,' he said.
Others note that residents may be preoccupied with less drastic problems
than the threat of piracy. Many of the first units to be sold have gone to
Germans, raising the spectre of towels already on deckchairs by the time the
rest of Europe's aspirant global voyagers make it to the pool.
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