The MS Helgoland has a proud sobriquet: as the White Ship of Hope, this former ferry spent five years saving lives during a terrible war.
Originally built to serve Heligoland’s seaside resorts, the passenger steamer was launched in Hamburg in 1963. At the time, a brutal war had been raging in Vietnam for a number of years, and people all over the world had responded with dismay.
The United States expected its allies to take a stand. Like others, the Federal Republic of Germany was asked to dispatch German soldiers to Vietnam. A political conflict was brewing. “Not a mark nor a man for the war in Vietnam” came the call from the German peace movement. The federal government reached cross-party agreement to avoid any military involvement in Vietnam.
The MS Helgoland was the solution. The politicians decided it should serve as a hospital ship and provide medical care for the victims of the war in Vietnam.
It took almost six months to convert the ship into a floating hospital. The ferry was equipped with two operating theatres and 150 beds. 30 nurses and eight doctors made the voyage.
Painted white from bow to stern, and with a red cross on its hull, it set sail for Vietnam on the 10th of August 1966. The ship spent five years there and delivered crucial humanitarian aid.
There were no friends or enemies. Everyone could get help on board the Red Cross vessel. During its five-year mission, the MS Helgoland cared for 200,000 patients, women as well as men.
Even now, people in Vietnam still remember the White Ship of Hope. Both the vessel and its crew received many awards, in Vietnam as well as in Germany.
Afterwards, the ship returned to ferry duties in Germany and these days, it potters around the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific as a cruise ship.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland