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Scientologists on the Freewinds, the church’s flagship, go through spiritual training so intense that the cruise director reportedly encourages the passengers to go ashore because it looks weird when a ship docks and no one gets off.
Now it looks like they’re staying on board for a different reason: measles.
Authorities on the island of St. Lucia say they’ve quarantined a ship that’s identical to the one shown on the Scientologists’ website, because there’s a confirmed case of measles onboard.
The ship arrived at port at the capital Castries on Monday, and none of the 300 passengers reported to be on board are allowed on shore. St. Lucia Coast Guard Sgt. Victor Theodore told NBC News that the ship involved is called the Freewinds.
“We thought it prudent that we quarantine the ship, so no one was allowed to leave the ship,” Dr. Merlene Fredericks James, the country’s chief medical officer said in a statement. “The ship’s doctor has the confirmed case in isolation.” The ship has been under quarantine since Monday, officials told NBC.
The 440-foot Freewinds is scheduled to leave St. Lucia by midnight Thursday, according to NBC.
The cruise ship has a prime spot in Scientologist lore. “To a Scientologist, boarding the Freewinds for New OT VIII [the highest level in scientology hierarchy] is the pinnacle of a deeply spiritual journey, the church’s website states. “It is the most significant spiritual accomplishment of his lifetime and brings with it the full realization of his immortality.”
The church set sail on it for the first time in 1988. It’s captained and crewed by the Sea Org, the Scientologists’ elite religious order. Back in 1993, it was reportedly worth $15.2 million, according to the New York Times.
It’s where Tom Cruise did the splits while singing a rendition of “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” on his 49th birthday, and where a woman says she was made to work for 12 years against her will. It’s also where a man says he ziplined off the ship using something like a rolling pin draped over one of the ship’s cables connecting it to port to escape being held captive against his will back in 1996.
On vaccines, the Church of Scientology has no official stance. But should a scientologist fall sick, they get treated by medical doctors, take medicine as prescribed, and rely on modern medical care.
The U.S. declared the measles, for which there is an effective vaccine, eradicated in 2000, but it’s come roaring back. There have been about 700 reported cases of the disease in the U.S. this year, according to the New York Times. That’s prompted largely by the spreading anti-vaxx movement, which has gained steam in part due to high-profile celebrities, including a few Scientologists, who have propelled a skepticism of vaccines into mainstream consciousness.
The disease is extremely contagious. “It’s like the Febreeze of diseases,” Marie Wilson, a nurse and spokesperson for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, previously told VICE News. “It stays suspended in the air for a long period of time,” up to two hours after a sick person has been in a room.
And it’s not just spreading in the U.S., but globally. In the first quarter of 2019, the World Health Organization recorded 112,000 cases of the measles worldwide, up over 300 percent from the same period in 2018.
The Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.