Book Review: True North – Knut Kloster

Some 20 years before the current generation of megaships, there was another, even bigger ship. And the same visionary shipowner was not only concerned about the environment back then, before it became popular, but also supported programs and activities to promote environmental awareness.

The shipowner was Norwegian Knut Ustein Kloster (81), who is credited with having launched the modern-day cruise industry. His foresight and idealism, as well as some of his many projects, are described in the book True North, by Stephanie Gallagher, published by iUniverse Books. The Cruise Lines International Association inducted Kloster into its Hall of Fame, in 2007, as a pioneer of the cruise industry.

First presented in the mid-1980s, the first megaship by today’s standards was the Phoenix at 255,000 tons and able to accommodate 5,600 passengers. It featured a number of ideas and concepts that are still unique today and all of its designs were approved by the class society and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Originally intended to be part of Norwegian Cruise Line, the board rejected the giant ship as too risky, according to Gallagher, and Kloster took on the project on his own and established World City Corporation as the parent company. The book traces the efforts that were made to build the ship (first in Germany and Japan) in the U.S., even creating the concept of a virtual shipyard. But the investment of $1.5 billion was considered too much for its time. Other cruise lines also lobbied against the project, and when MARAD loan guarantees were pursued, those were instead given to American Classic Voyages, which turned into a fiasco and basically shut the door for the Phoenix.

Kloster’s business model is described as “conscious capitalism,” taking all the stakeholders into account, including the environment and the global community at large. The Phoenix, for example, claimed to burn 50 percent less fuel per passenger.

Kloster started Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1966, which today is known as Norwegian Cruise Line, but the book spends too little time on NCL and its subsequent growth into Kloster Cruise, which also owned Royal Cruise Line and Royal Viking Line, and eventually was publicly traded in Norway and the U.S., before being sold to Star.

The book does highlight the Norway, however, which was nearly triple the size of any other cruise ship when she entered service in 1980, and the book claims she represented 40 percent of all the year-round passenger capacity in the Caribbean.

Instead, Gallagher focuses on Kloster’s other engagements, perhaps more in line with her own interests. Kloster played an important role in the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway; he was the driving force behind the creation of the Norwegian pavilion at Epcot; and he sponsored a 15,000-mile voyage of a replica Viking ship, the GAIA, named after mother earth, to deliver messages from thousands of children around the world to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

More recently, Kloster has been pursuing another project, GAIASHIP, intended as a ship that will travel the world, representing all nations, its mission being to simply bring people together to search for solutions to humankind’s problems. According to Gallagher, Kloster sees the ship as a messenger of peace and a mediator of disputes between countries and cultures. He also envisions the ship flying the UN flag. And for those who don’t recall, the Norway also had the UN flag, and Kloster once offered the ship so President Jimmy Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini could meet onboard and negotiate the release of the American Embassy hostages.

True North is interesting and worthwhile reading, though Gallagher seemingly uses the second half of the book too much to make what seems like her own political statements. Nevertheless, True North is recommended. It gives a glimpse into the life of Kloster, whose ideas and idealism are very much relevant today and as we move forward. (Editor)

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