May 2, 2005
The Merchant Vessel (MV) Doulos, listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest active ocean-going passenger ship, has docked in the port of Muscat, Sultanate of Oman this week. The ship was built in 1914, two years after the Titanic, but unlike the more famous luxury liner, Doulos has over 90 years of safe sailing to her credit. This “Grand Old Lady of the Sea” has undergone several periods of rebuilding and expansion throughout the 20th century and sailed under three different names, before being purchased by a Christian missionary group, Operation Mobilisation (OM), in 1977 and converted for their use.
Doulos bills itself as “the world’s largest floating book fair”, and carries half a million books which represent about 6,000 distinct titles, which are donated and sold for modest fees to support the vessel’s operation. The books represent Christian literature and educational material in various languages. Sailing from port to port throughout Asia and Africa, the crew of the Doulos sometimes finds itself faced with local restrictions against the sale of Christian literature, which it handles by separating the sacred books from the secular with a canvas divider, and evangelizing the guards who are sent to control access to the banned books.
Most places visited by the Doulos and its sister ship Logos II (which travels North and South America) receive them with an enthusiastic welcome. “Most places we visit don’t have Borders or Barnes and Noble,” said Lane Powell, publications editor for OM. “In other countries literature is more highly valued and this can be the biggest thing in town,” Powell continued in his interview with ASSIST News Service. “People line up one to two miles in some parts of the world. We have 6,000 people coming on the Logos II in one day.”
The OM website claims that, since 1970, the two ships have together reached 30 million people in 140 countries, in 435 ports around the world. The crews themselves are also quite international in character, with volunteers from 50 different countries. Powell gives credit to their shared Christian background for their ability to get along with each other despite their differences. The names of their ships also have Christian meaning: doulos means “servant” and logos means “word”, as in holy scripture.
The ship recently sailed to Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt before coming to the Gulf of Oman, and docking in its Sultan Qaboos port, where it was received in style by the Tourism Minister Rajiha bint Abdulameer bin Ali, one of three female ministers in the cabinet. Oman is the only country in the Gulf to have its own tourism ministry, created last year to encourage visitors to come partake in Omani life and culture.
Said bin Ali to the Daily Times, “We are absolutely delighted to have a roving library second to none, busy inculcating reading habits among people at a time when it matters most.”
Also speaking to the Daily Times, Murthadha Hassan Ali said, “The importance of such a visit can’t be over-emphasised in days when reading habits are waning and people are swarming restaurants as if we were born only to eat… Book remains your best companion, TV or no TV.” Ali described himself as a “compulsive book reader”, and wants someday to start a public library in the capital city of Muscat, which currently has none.
The 425 foot long (130m) library will weigh anchor and continue its missionary journey starting May 9, with plans to sail to Kenya, on Africa’s east coast.