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28/10/2013 12:30 | By Jamie Carter, contributor, MSN Innovation

The incredible 50,000-home floating city

It has got casinos, an airport and shopping malls, but would you live on the Freedom Ship?


The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

The Freedom Ship is so big it could never enter a port

Each year thousands of Brits jet off to foreign climes to indulge in tax-free shopping, gambling or just to soak-up some rays by the sea, but what if all of that was delivered to you on a floating platform? A plan by a Florida-based company for a mile-long vessel that is packed with attractions and constantly sails around the world could create a permanent community of at least 40,000 residents. The so-called Freedom Ship would also have room for another 30,000 daily visitors, 20,000 crew and 10,000 overnight guests. It sounds a sure-fire instant global icon whose three-year circumnavigation of the planet would spark an interest everywhere it went. Visitors could fly to the vessel at any time thanks to a runway on its roof.

It's a $10 billion project that's edging closer towards becoming a reality. “It will be the largest vessel ever built, and the first ever floating city,” says Roger M Gooch, director and vice-president of Freedom Ship International, “but this will be a very heavily capitalised project – and the global economy in the last few years hasn't been too inviting for unproven progressive projects like ours.” Happily, though it has experienced a hiatus, the Freedom Ship now looks as if it is a live project again. “In the last six months we're getting more interest in the project,” says Gooch, whose company needs about $1 billion to begin construction.

The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

A fleet of small aircraft will bring tourists to the ship, and take residents to shore

Bigger and better

The Freedom Ship is a big deal in a lot of ways; a mile long and 25 storeys high, the finished 2.7 million-tonne vessel is so big it will have to be constructed in parts. A permanent home to 40,000 people living in condominiums and apartments, there would be schools, hospitals, businesses, parks, promenades, landscaping, public art and saltwater aquariums – all patrolled by a security force – though a crucial aspect of the Freedom Ship will be tourism.

As well as a constant stream of visitors from countries near the Freedom Ship's ever-changing position – perhaps to take advantage of the world's largest (and also duty-free) retail shopping mall – its residents would be able to access myriad holiday spots around the world without the need to travel long-haul. Its own fleet of 'commuter' aircraft and 350-passenger hydrofoils would serve the Freedom Ship, leaving every 20 minutes. “Due to the size of the vessel it could never go into a port – it's physically too big,” says Gooch. The plan is to have the Freedom Ship hug the coastlines of the world, but always stay about 15 miles off the shore, in international waters. Its arrival off the coast could cause a surge in two-way tourism, as well as a boost to local food suppliers.

The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

The ship will host a full-blown city complete with a $400 million hospital

Freedom to live

This is no cruise ship. “The initial intention of the ship was to avail people of freedom, not necessarily from government controls, but freedom of the marketplace,” says Gooch, who wants the Freedom Ship to be a totally market-driven economy. “It will give people freedom to see the world, freedom of amenities and lifestyle, and since this is an alternative lifestyle relative to a land-based community, we thought Freedom Ship was an appropriate name.” However, Gooch lets slip that he and his colleagues may end up taking a more philanthropic approach to the vessel. “Maybe down the road we might call it the Global Friend Ship … but we'd like to worry about changing the name because that would mean we actually have the vessel,” he says.

The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

The Freedom Ship isn't just for rich tax dodgers

A normal city?

A purpose-built society at sea sounds like a place only for the rich, right? “It won't be an elitist community,” says Gooch. “There will be time-shares, full-size condominiums and storefronts. People can start a business, or open a restaurant, and we'll have hotels. It will be a normal city.” Nor is the Freedom Ship a tax dodge, at least, not overtly. “Our intention is not to make a tax haven,” says Gooch, though he stresses that the residents would be subject to the laws of the country it's registered with, so tax advantages may come. “That would be a bonus,” says Gooch. Money would be spent, but not seen, with an attempt to dispense with cash in favour of credit or debit cards, though there will be banks on board to convert between currencies.

The Freedom Ship does appear to be aimed at those who want to see the world – something that takes a lot of cash – and it could also be a cost-effective way for businesspeople to showcase their products around the world.

However, while it's not cheap, a berth on the Freedom Ship isn't as outrageous and you might think: a two-week time-share starts at £37,500 while an 'economy unit' would set you back £96,000. A bigger 90-square-metre apartment costs £323,000, though it you want an (ever-changing) ocean view then prices shoot up to £563,500.

The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

The Freedom Ship will be the largest vessel ever constructed

Safety first

But will it be safe? The first voyage of such a vessel is bound to catch the attention of the world's media and everyone else, with the surrounding publicity – not to mention its roots in the US – certain to register with terrorists. “It would appear to be an ideal target for making a political statement, or for pirates, but we will have a mobile security force on board,” says Gooch. “On the vessel there will be discreet protective defensive systems, and though they won't be overt, they will very effective in repelling threats to the vessel and its citizens.” It's also likely that the Freedom Ship authorities will be in contact with global intelligence systems. However, when it comes to keeping its borders tight, there shouldn't be a problem. “We'll have tighter control on the comings and goings on our vessel than you could ever have on any land-based community,” says Gooch.

The Freedom Ship (© FSI)

It could take four years to build the Freedom Ship's 600 sections

When will we see it?

So when should we expect the see the Freedom Ship appear on the horizon of the Channel? It could be some time yet. “It will take three to four years to construct the vessel, and that's working 24/7,” admits Gooch, though the unique way that the Freedom Ship will have to be constructed could mean a quicker build. “It might happen faster – it won't be constructed in a conventional shipyard because it's much too large, but it will be built in sections and assembled offshore,” he says of the oil rig-style construction, which consists of 600 individual air and water-tight hull sections. “If multiple shipyards and facilities could coordinate in the construction of the sections, it could accelerate the construction period.”

The much-hyped project first announced in the 1990s has been swimming against the tide in recent years, first with the global recession and more recently with the passing of its principal engineer Norman Nixon, the conceptual designer of the Freedom Ship. Despite that the ambitious project to build the world's biggest boat – and the first autonomous floating community – could soon be looming on the horizon.

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