It’s Saturday, June 30th 2007, and the clock is about to strike 3 in the afternoon. I’m loading my car with camera and lenses and prepare to head out on a 555 kilometers drive from Bangkok to Ranong. As the afternoon proceeds and the wheels keep on rolling, I’m getting more and more exited for what I’m about to experience. But, before we get to that point, let’s start with the beginning.
In 1997 the Norwegian Coastal Voyage took delivery of yet another new building, a new building which replaced the handsomely shaped Kong Olav from 1964. Kong Olav had at the time of her retirement from NCV served the Norwegian Coast for 33 years in sun shine and storms, rain and snow.
Kong Olav was already advertised for sale as she slipped in to Bergen for the very last time on April 30th 1997. She was after a short lay up at Solheimsviken Mekaniske Verksted, the place of her birth, sold to Andaman Marine in Ranong in Thailand. Initially, a Honduras flag was hoisted and the ship was registered at San Lorenzo with a new call sign: HQTS9.
In order to save some money on the storing, food was taken on board from a local Vietnamese grocery store in Bergen. On July 2nd 1997, with 18 crew members and a Norwegian pilot on board, Captain Vachira Rachatavan or just 'Captain Todd' from Thailand, silently slipped away from the pier and started on the journey to Thailand. As soon as the King; departed the pier, the first problem arose. The gyro compass which had been quiet for a short while did not correspond well and the pilot asked Captain Todd what he now wants to do. Continue or return to the dock was the question presented. A quick phone call and a couple of sharp maneuvers off the dock later, the gyro fell into place and Captain Todd ordered the engines full ahead.
Her journey to Thailand.
On the journey to Thailand, the ship used 4 weeks and 4 hours to reach Ranong. Two stops were made, one at Port Said for bunkering and another stop to take on some fresh water. During the transit of the very warm Red Sea, the ship experienced a cooling problem as the main engine clocked up hours. The speed had to be reduced and Captain Todd indicated that in order to continue operating the vessel in warmer waters, a second sea chest may need to be made. A slight dispute over fuel cost also appeared on the horizon as Ranong came into view, but Captain Todd’s experience and consistency eventually saved the day.
After arriving at Ranong and after the owner’s inspection of the vessel, he decided that the name would not be changed. This is inline with most of the other ex-Norwegian vessel’s he had also bought and was yet to buy in the future. He just gave the original names a translation. The original plans for the ship were now to convert her to a floating and operational hotel ship, with some casino slot machines on board. A lot of rumors circulated that she would be a pure bread casino ship but those rumors seem to just stem from the fact that the owner owns a casino and resort in Burma.
The voyage from Ranong to Bangkok where she was scheduled for dry dock was a voyage of about 1500 nautical miles but would take her through the ferocious Malacca Strait where pirates frequently operate. In preparation for the transit of Malacca, Andaman Marine took no chances and hired 15 heavily armed officers to guard the ship for the entire transit. After arriving in Bangkok, the vessel was dry docked. Because of after-effects of the Asian crisis of ’97 and some indecisive business strategies, the dry- and wet dock of Kong Olav would last almost a year. She was spotted and confirmed to be in Bangkok on February 17th 1998.
When emerging out of dry- and wet dock, the ship sported new funnel marking and a Thai registry. Her new home port was now Bangkok. During dry dock most of the art work and furniture’s on board were left untouched. Some wood was replaced where it was rotten but all were done in the same material and style. Signage and stickers were not touched. Air conditions were installed in all public rooms and some outside railings were replaced. A new Caterpillar generator was also placed in a room beneath the main mast on the boat deck, to supply power to a/c units. The one generator she had originally, did not give sufficient load to power all air conditions on board. As per recommendations of Captain Todd, a secondary sea water inlet was also made to provide cooling to main engine in tropical waters. The rubber flooring on outdoor boat deck was also removed and the steel deck was re-painted.
After an additional short lay up in Bangkok, she made her way to Similan Island in the Andaman Sea. The owners, Andaman Club Company and Andaman Marine, now intended to anchor the vessel here and use her as an accommodation ship. Other ex-Norwegian fast ferries which the company had obtained from Norway would transport passengers from Phuket to Kong Olav.
As a hotel ship, the ship did not do very well at Similan Island. Only a few bookings and guests stayed on board during the high-season and the Kong Olav pulled her anchor and returned then to Ranong. Andaman Marine blamed small accommodations and others blamed failed marketing. No matter the reasons, this was the one and only season the ship would serve as a hotel. In 2003, the ship dropped anchor off Andaman Club Resort in Burma, just across from Ranong in Thailand. Her crew signed off and Captain Todd disembarked to other vessels. One man was left behind to guard the ship.
During her many years at anchor, she once managed to drag her anchor and was almost blown up onto the rocks of Son Island in Burma (Myanmar). Quick action saved the day, just 50 meters from running up, possibly saving her being lost.
As Captain Todd enthusiastically explains, he loves the way this ship handles, the history and her capacities but feel heart ache seeing her neglected like this. When asked if he liked using the bow thruster in docking and undocking the ship, he stated that the power was underrated and that he preferred mooring and unmooring without.
The Kong Olav is a well known name now for many in Ranong and especially in maritime circles. Captain Todd speaks with fond memories when talking about Kong Olav; I find it very charming that the name lives on in the way it does in Ranong. She is spoken of with admiration and respect.
The ship has ever-since remained at her anchorage. Days turned into months and months turned into years.
On previous occasions, I could not get close to the ship or even get a permission to come on board. The ship's owner does not really appreciate any visitors to this laid up vessel.
Frozen in time; Kong Olav 10 years later.
As mentioned, the ship departed Solheimsviken in Bergen an early Wednesday morning in 1997. Just one day short of the 10th anniversary of this departure, I was once again about to board the Kong Olav as the very first and possibly very final visitor to the ship. I arrived at Ranong just after midnight on Saturday evening, I met up with Captain Todd at a local restaurant. Years of fruitless research concerning the ship and hunt for someone to give permission to let me on board had now finally come to and end. Captain Todd would early next morning take me on board to see the ship. It was very evident from the first moment that Captain Todd was fully aware of the ship’s history and name, and that he had a special place in his heart for this vessel. He spoke of the vessel with respect and admiration. During the next hours, we shared our views and ideas on how to best save the ship for the future. We shared a common vision of the ship returning to Norway; escorted in to Oslo or Stavanger by an armada of smaller vessels. As the King approached the harbor, she would once again blow her whistles like she did for so many years. An open ship would offer visitors coffee and waffles including activities for the children. Returning from exile and a dry dock in Asia, the ship was easily envisioned to go on as a hotel ship and restaurant back home in Norway.
As both Todd and myself continued our conversation, we planned everything. How we would get local laborers to chip rust and paint the vessel following the sale, how we would replace rotten wood and prepare her for the voyage back home. Getting a little grip on reality, we also spoke about the time which had passed since she left Norway. Answering many questions and filling in many blank spots in her history. As the hours passed, we split for the night and decided to meet up at 8 next morning to proceed to the vessel.
7 o’clock next morning my alarm rang and I jumped out of bed. The only thing that could stop the visit to the ship now would be the weather. Despite some rain, the winds were calm in my favor. Captain Todd met up at 8 sharp and after a local breakfast, we proceeded to the Thai Immigration to obtain proper permissions to visit the vessel. After some minor paperwork and a cup of coffee with the Immigration Officer in charge, we eventually walked down the pier to get a boat to Burma. The boat which was to take us Burma was a former Thames ferry; one of several purchased by Andaman Marine.
From the landing point in Burma we would get another boat to take us out to Kong Olav. On the trip to Burma I spotted the ship. She was sitting about 2 nautical miles off land and at anchor with starboard anchor in the water. She had a small list to starboard but looked good in the distance. It was no doubt a Norwegian Coastal Vessel. Despite sitting at the same anchorage for about 4 long years she did look magnificent from our view point.
Stepping on board.
The time was almost 11 in the morning when we eventually stepped on board. From a specially chartered boat in Burma, we had made the short trip out to Kong Olav. We entered the ship mid ships on A-deck via the starboard shell door. I was amazed and tried hiding my enthusiasm as best as I could. We were just one day short of her 10 years anniversary of the departure from Bergen and I was now once again on board the Kong Olav. What an historical event this was in its own words. We met up with the care taker on board and he would guide us through the ship; not that neither me or Captain Todd needed a guide but it was now his territory and we were visiting.
The care taker was very friendly and open minded, and had no objections to showing us everything we wanted. One of the first things I noticed when stepping on board was one of many fish charts; a poster made by Fiskernes Bank still displayed. Other signs was also evident, and most was untouched by hand since she sailed in Hurtigruten. It was an extremely eerie feeling. It was like the ship had just left Hurtigruten last week and was in a short lay up. Knowing that ten years had now passed, the ship now looked like a time capsule with everything frozen in time. A little cleaning of cob webs, some paint and some new curtains would quickly bring this vessel back to life. The expected smell of stagnant air was not evident anywhere on board apart from the lower decks. Mold on carpets were not found unless directly under a leaking pipe or window. The original carpets were all in place throughout the ship. We entered the ticket office and reception lobby. Some documents were still floating and minor items collected could be seen on tables. A light with the name Kong Olav was still working and resting on the table of what used to be the Chief Steward’s office. An old OVDS - cap was sitting on the shelf gathering dust. In a drawer at the ticket office and old edition of Bergen Tidene newspaper dated June 1997 was resting and gathering moist, though still readable.
As we entered the ship, my electronic flash acted up and rendered useless. I was very irritated by this, I had been checking and re-checking all equipments before this trip and now off course, it did not work. Well, I didn’t want to let this stop me so I increased the ISO speed to 1600 and continued taking pictures. There is very little electricity on board and the corridors have no light. The only light for photography would be that which would came in through windows and doorways.
We made our way up the staircase to Saloon Deck entering the lobby of the restaurant and smoking room. As mentioned, all signs and markings remained untouched almost like nothing whatsoever had happened the last 10 years. A sculpture of King Olav still adorned the wall of the dining room and Captain Todd immediately went over paying his respects with a bowed head and a polite wai. We walked through the smoking room like the first people in many years. Just a little soap and some one to remover furniture covers, and she would be ready to serve customers. On the port side, a bar had been built.
We then walked through the restaurant and the cafeteria, more places where all original signage was intact. Artwork was still displayed on the wall and the only signs the ship was currently not in service would be the empty post card-racks and the cafeteria’s closed shutters. A small leak in the ceiling from the boat deck above was found on the port side in the aft part of the cafe; similarly to about amidships in the aft bar. Also one of the cabins on the starboard side (cabin number 7) had a leak but this one was slightly larger and had done some damage to the cabin. The other cabins on starboard side were still not too bad, no leaks as of yet. The pantry behind the restaurant and cafe also had a leak in the ceiling from the boat deck above. Captain Todd thought it may have to do with the fact that when the ship was in her first dry dock in Bangkok, the rubber material laid on the boat deck was removed and the steel deck was then just painted.
The galley still had original Norwegian china in the shelves but would probably need quite a clean up if to ever pass a public health inspection. A new galley would most likely be required if food ever were to be made again there. Rust, old unused equipments and mold has taken some toll on the furnishing. The double food lift was still intact; a brochure from OVDS resting inside under a slight layer of dust.
From the restaurant we walked one deck up to the Boat deck and entered the observation lounge. This lounge had been refurbished with sofas and a BOSE sound system and was in relatively good condition. All needed here would be to replace the lamp shades and you would have a very nice lounge. In the hall outside the observation lounge was another image of Kong Olav - an image which Captain Todd was very quick to pay his respects to.
Looking out on to the outside deck on both port and starboard side, the outside ladders up to the bridge deck had collapsed and only the brand new stainless steel railings were left hanging. We walked through the officer’s cabins and could easily see what officers had lived where, signs in Norwegian still displayed above the doors. Documents and ships drawings were still sitting in the shelves and folders of each cabin. Documents were all in Norwegian and mostly untouched since her days as a NCV - vessel. It felt like she had been taken out of service recently and was awaiting a return to the NCV. We dropped by the Captains Cabin.
“This was my room” Captain Todd explained. Keys, signs, documents and ship’s plans still laid in their place on the table and in folders and binders in the shelf. From the officers cabins we walked up the steep stairs to the Bridge deck, walking past the two pilots cabins and into the radio room on starboard side. The radio room was like a museum of old communication equipments and a testament to communication ten years ago; further enhancing the experience of a locked up time capsule. On the floor of the radio room, the ship’s bell was resting. Captain Todd explained that he had hid the bell here as he did not want anyone to run off with it. He clearly understood the value of a ships bell. The bell had a small damage on the back and had been repaired at some point in time. Both Captain Todd and myself both wanted to take a picture of the bell, so I offered to carry it onto the bridge where there would be sufficient light for a photograph. The bell was very heavy and rung several times as I carried it to the bridge. Kong Olav, Stavanger, 1964 was still imprinted on the bell. I suggested to Captain Todd, that if the ship was ever to be scrapped the bell should be returned to Stavanger Maritime Museum for display. He completely agreed but feared the owner would never be of the same opinion.
The bridge was in good condition; all equipments in place. I was awestruck arriving on the bridge; this was the ultimate room on the entire ship and everything was just like when she was serving on the coast of Norway. Whether all the equipment would still work, we could not test. I doubt the relatively modern Arpa-radar located on the port side would fire up though; these are things that does not like moisture and deteriorate over time even when not in use. At least as much as four years had now gone by without any power on the unit.
Walking out on the port bridge wing and aftwards to the funnel, we could observe some of the very few exterior changes to the ship: air condition units placed in front of the main mast. Lifeboat number 2 is about to collapse after having collected rain water for many years. The strain on the boat had been to much and the weight had cracked the boat on the outside; it was like seeing the boat melting away with time. Life boat number 3 was gone and the davits hung empty and quiet. The other remaining lifeboats had also been left without cover and after ten years in the tropics were most likely not in any condition for renovation. These would be rendered unusable if the ship was to return to service.
Walking down the boat deck we spotted two lockers with lifejackets faded in color by time. A new Caterpillar engine had been placed in a room beneath the aft mast; to supply power for all air condition units Captain Todd explained. From the Boat deck to the aft deck, all teak railings have been eroded and destroyed by time. Out door wooden ladders are in a condition that they would need replacement, including wooden cabinets and other wooden features which has not stood the passing of time very well.
We returned down to the cabin decks on B-deck and walked through passenger cabins, propeller suites and cabins with shower and toilet. The rooms are by these days modern standard, very old fashioned but contains quite a bit of original wood and bunk beds. The cabins are as a whole quite small. Captain Todd went on to explain, that during her dry dock they did look into combining two and two cabins into a larger one, but that it was rendered too expensive. We also walked through the main galley on A-deck, with shelves of pots and pans left as they had been used yesterday but over sprayed with dust and cobweb to give a rustic feeling. The main galley would need major renovation if ever to be used for food preparation again.
Crew mess room on port side still had a stack of magazines from 1997 resting on a table in the corner; the pages of VG, Vi Menn and Dagbladet had turned yellow over time but you could sit down and read the stories with no problem. The officer’s mess on starboard side had a shelf with more magazines and a few other Norwegian articles left behind. Aft of the officers mess, chief engineers cabin seemed like it had been deserted very unexpectedly. Documents, manuals, drawings and other ships plans were still neatly stacked in folders, drawers, files and shelves. The clock on the wall had stopped further giving the feeling of time travel and frozen in time. To my greatest surprise, in a window shelf of the cabin the packaging of Norwegian chocolate called Hobby was resting very faded in time but left by someone a long time ago. From the cabin of the chief engineer, we made a trip down to the engine room to have a look at the main engine.
The engine room would best be categorized as a very dusty and dirty place; a hazard in itself. A thorough cleaning is desperately needed in order to avoid the potential for a sudden and unexpected disaster. The care taker goes on to explain that the engine has not been started or tended to since the anchor dropped four years ago. He does not know if the fuel tanks still have fuel inside but said he likely don’t think so. There may be some diesel left in one tank he thinks. The bilge beneath the engine is still relatively dry but a portable pump indicated that water may have accumulated here some time ago. The water tight door behind the main engine is also left open and had not been moved since an even longer time. It is very likely that if a miracle is achieved and the engine indeed does start, other systems will fail and stop the engine. There are many things that can go wrong down here and Todd agreed with me that maybe she could have the engine room gutted (apart from the main engine itself), get a viewing platform installed and be used as an attraction onboard Hotel Kong Olav.
In the aft staircase from Saloon Deck to A-deck an old picture montage / drawing made by Honningsvåg Barneskole was still hanging. This is the reason behind the name Kong Olav Captain Todd explained: this is the reason why Kong Olav still has her name. The owner could simply not remove the drawing; it made a connection to her past he had explained.
The small stern lounge besides the poop deck aft on A-deck was intended as a slot machine room but nothing was ever done to execute the plans. A blanket with VDS was still sitting on the bench where people used to take a nap.
One of our final stops on board the ship was the cabins in the bow and the forecastle. Some very personal signage and adult reading material could still be found in some cabins. Writing paper and envelopes with OVDS still rested on tables and in drawers, pillows and mattresses in place. Sea sickness bags and other items still lay where the way they were placed when the ship was taken out of NCV.
We walked up to the forecastle and had a look at the spare anchor, the anchor chain and the crane. Captain Todd believed the crane had likely only been moved less than a handful of times since leaving Norway and would most definitely no longer rotate. We were looking for the builder’s plate on the superstructure front but could not see it or traces of where it once had hung. On sister ship Nordnorge which was chopped in Alang some years ago, it was located beneath the observation lounge windows. We could not find it or see any trace of where it was placed.
Does anyone know where the builder’s plate on board Kong Olav was located?
The starboard anchor is still hugging the bottom like it has done for more than 4 years. Whether hoisting the anchor can be done or not, has clearly not been tested. Port anchor is ready to drop if the winch still can release the brakes. From the paint room and jail on the bow, we returned to the “Billettkontor”.
It was time to thank the care taker for the tour and say our goodbyes. It was sad, I have no idea whether I would ever return on board.
The future of Kong Olav.
The future of the ship hangs in a really thin thread. It is speculated that the owner would never sell the ship to the scrappers but with no care or maintenance made on board, within time, the ship could face the danger of capsizing or sinking. A sudden accident could also happen at any time, and the ship could be lost forever. There are numerous scary scenarios and we can only fear the worst.
But undoubtedly, this time machine should now be returned to Norway. She would most likely never see service as a ship again but has a potential as a hotel, museum or a ghost ship attraction. The class has expired and the cost of re-entering the vessel as a ship may be costly as far as I know. Both Captain Todd and myself dreams of the day when she would return to Norway and we fully agree that a serious attempt should be made in trying to return the King home again from its 10 year of exile.
The time is running out very rapidly, the ships existence can not be guaranteed for too many more years. This is the very last and only opportunity to get a hand on the vessel which is not officially for sale, and most likely will never be offered officially for sale. The scrap price of the ship (light ship * scrap price) is somewhere just above 18 million Thai Baht (US$ 570.000 or NOK 3.367.000), so the owner may settle for a sales price of anything above 20 million Thai Baht.
This price is very much dependent on what offers Captain Todd can bring to the owner, though money seems not to be an issue in selling the ship.
Should anyone seriously be interested in bringing the King home, please let me know and we will present the offer personally to the owner. The caretaker on board and myself will without a second thought sign up for the return journey (noting also that the current caretaker was among the scrap crew which brought her from Norway 10 years ago).
We are both eager to see her safe return back home. Captain Todd will reach retirement soon but promised to rejoin the ship in Norway when Hotel Kong Olav opens the doors to the public.
Goodbye Kong Olav.
After disembarking the Kong Olav, the trip continued to a rare car park with a collection of many ex-Norwegian fast ferries.
Late in the afternoon, I returned to Thailand across the Kra Canal on board an ex-Japanese ferry whilst waving good bye to the Kong Olav. She had turned her bow around and was now facing me. I had the feeling she was trying to reach out to me; “Go on son, tell the people of Norway about me, and ask them to bring me home now. I’m very tired, I’m wearing out, please bring me home”.
It was like a very sad send off. I pray to all powers that once I will return, but not for just a one day visit.
Want to read more about Kong Olav and see all the images from the 2007 inspection?
Latest update, dated 24th of January 2013: please see below the two newspaper cut-outs under.
Thread at new CaptainsVoyage Forum: Kong Olav - legend still alive.
Facebook-group "Saving Kong Olav"
The ship's official web-page (Norwegian language only): mskongolav.net
Latest update, dated January 24th 2013:
As the Kong Olav rescue-mission eventually came to an end around New Year, I also need to thank all of you for the continuous support and gracious assistance in such an hard and impossible task. It is no secret that the Kong Olav is a very special ship in my heart, and that I truly hoped from the bottom of my heart, we would be able to do the near-to-impossible thing and save her.
The campaign has through the years cost me a significant amount of private money, energy and time. But, as the effort now has come to an end, I'm really glad I did try my very best at saving her. I would never have wanted to wake up in 20 years knowing that I never even gave it a try. Also, I know I did more for the ship than anyone else had ever dared to do before me.
At one point in the long campaign, trying to save the ship from scrapping, some of the commentary (particularly lead by another Norwegian shipping forum) got really personal, cruel and vicious. Within this long campaign, I also received several threatening mobil phone messages and e-mails. Some of these threats were even of such a character, that I had no other option than to report it to the local police.
I must stress that my intention all the time, was to try save the ship from a certain scrapping. Naturally, I respect everyone and their opinions towards the question whether she was the right ship to save. Norway have a very long maritime heritage and there are also many ships we all have special connections to, and want to see saved. We have several handful beautiful veteran vessels in many of the Norwegian ports, both in the southern and northern part of the country. We also have an extremely urgent matter in Stokmarknes, where another retired Hurtigruten-ship, the 1956-built Finnmarken, desperately is trying to find sufficient funds to build a roof over Norway's largest museum-piece. I often fear for the future of Finnmarken in Stokmarknes, if they are not able to build her into a building sometime soon. She is made of steel, wood and have numerous openings… water has a tendency to find it's way in, and once it does, the decay rapidly increases.
For many supporters, I know some of the feelings and motifs behind their dreams. A lot of former crew members contacted me through the months and year, and shared with me their most wonderful stories from the Kong Olav: these were people on the quays, people that had sailed with the ship as a passenger or a crew member, and from many other people living along the coast who fondly remember the ship. I'm extremely honoured to having had those conversations, and I would like to extend my most sincere "thank you" to all those that took some time to share with me those fantastic stories. I will probably never forget the former crew member who called me one evening, and in tears telling me how much he admired my efforts and how much he wanted to see the ship return to Norway. That conversation in particular, made a lasting impact on me and gave me the strength to try my best.
Needless to say, as a Captain myself, I do know that finances also must be in place, and that there must be a safe way to guarantee her future revenue and economical goals. This is one of the things that eventually killed this dream of many. When an inspection team traveled down to Burma (Myanmar) during the autumn to inspect the ship, and to discuss a possible purchase from the owner, it also became very evident that the ship had degenerated tremendously since my own July 1st 2007-inspection. The last 5 years had done a lot of damage to the ship: decay, fungus and leaks were evident all over. It was somewhat quite a shock to learn the extensive decay and damage on board. Some degeneration was naturally expected, but not to the extent the inspection revealed.
The "Bergen investor group" did a lot of work "behind the scenes" and solely went into the project trying only their very best at creating a business model and making a safe, economical, and sound business proposal to try return the ship to Norway. A phone-campaign was launched, and about 5600 NOK was collected. The phone campaign itself had their fees to be covered, and the inspection trip to Burma also had to be covered. It doesn't take a genius to understand that they never made any money on their efforts and time.
With the ship's current condition, the always changing purchase price would only be a fraction of the cost it would take to ready her for any kind of future life.
It would have been absolutely wonderful to see the ship sail into Stavanger harbour in fresh paint, with all her flags flaying from bow to stern, and with the horn blasting her familiar sound. It would have been a triumph for many to see the "King" return home from exile. I always saw it as a way to honour the crew and passengers that had a connection to the ship, as a way to honour the people along the coast and as a way to honour all war-sailors that are still alive, and that have passed on.
At this point, the only thing we can do is to try salvage the art on board, and some other special items from the ship, before she eventually sinks or are scrapped. I leave that project to those that still wants to make a try, and I firmly believe that the Hurtigruten museum at Stokmarknes might be the right people to do so. They might not have the funding and finances the ship owner wants for these items, but I think they are the right people to make a try.
In closing, our dreams is the foundation of most, if not every man and woman, and I urge everyone to work hard trying to realise their dreams before it is too late. Continuing in your life knowing that you gave it your everything, will be an award for you to treasure for the rest of your time. I rest assured now, that I really tried all that I possibly could do. In the end, I did fail, but I know that I really tried.
Yours truly, thank you.