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Prins Willem

From December 2003, until a fire destroyed it on 30 July 2009, a replica of the East India Company (VOC) ship, the ‘Prins Willem’, was moored in Den Helder. The ship was part of the collection of vessels in the Museum Port Willemsoord, on the former site of the navy shipyard Willemsoord, which dates from 1825. The Prins Willem is currently being restored by Shipyard Talsma in Franeker.

The replica of the Prins Willem (Prins Willim) was built by Shipyard Amels in Makkum (Friesland) for the open-air museum Oranda Mura, Holland Village, on the bay of Omura near Nagasaki in Japan. It was offered to the museum by the Dutch state. The design of the replica was made by Bureau voor Scheepsbouw (Office for Shipbuilding) in Bloemendaal. The festive start of the construction works took place on 5 October 1984 and the ship was launched on 3 May 1985. Because of the weather conditions in Japan and the necessary maintenance, the ship was given a steel body and metal masts. The interior is made of wood, but is adapted to its function as museum. Because of the fundamental differences with the original ship, it would perhaps be better to speak of a full-sized model instead of a replica. The wooden statues and ornaments are hand-carved. When the ship was completed, it was baptised in the presence of a Japanese delegation.

The Prins Willem was moored in Oranda Mura, surrounded by replicas of 17th century Dutch houses from Hoorn. In 1992, the theme park was expanded with the fortifications of Naarden, with the tower of the Dom, palace Huis ten Bosch, the windmills of Kinderdijk, the Central Station of Amsterdam, the city hall of Gouda and other prominent Dutch buildings inside. It was named ‘Huis ten Bosch’. The ship was moored there until 2003. Early 2003 the Prins Willem was sold, because of the financial problems of Oranda Mura. The replicas of the Liefde (built in 1991) and the paddle steamer Kanko Maru (built in 1987) are still moored there, however.

On 8 December, the replica of the VOC-ship the Prins Willem arrived in Den Helder on board of the ship Dockexpress 10 of the company Dockwise. The transport had left Japan on 3 November and travelled via Singapore and the Suez Canal. Thanks to the favourable weather conditions, the transport went well.  After a thorough refurbishment of the masts and the rigging amongst other things, the ship was moored at the former theme park Cape Holland, which was opened on 28 April 2004, on the terrain of the former navy Shipyard Willemsoord. From May to December 2006, the hull of the ship was thoroughly restored.  In 2007, Cape Holland was closed “until further notice” due to financial troubles. The City of Den Helder was considering taking on the exploitation of the theme park itself. The Executive Board of the City of Den Helder agreed wtih the owner of the Prins Willem to rent it for two years (at the cost of almost 800.000 euro), to be able to host the guests of Sail 2008 there. In June 2007, Cape Holland was bought by the City of Den Helder and it was run by Willemsoord BV. The Prins Willem is still owned by Libéma and is run by Willemsoord BV. The ship has been re-opened to the public in the Museum Port Willemsoord. In the course of 2008, it was announced that after 2008 the ship would be sold to the Middle-East, the United States or somewhere near Russia (Noord-Hollands Dagblad, 26/08/08).

On 2 February 2009, Willemsoord BV, the City of Den Helder and the owner Libéma signed an agreement to keep the ship in its dock in the old navy shipyard during 2009 as well. Willemsoord is exempted from paying rent for the ship and Libéma is exempted from paying rent for the berth. Willemsoord pays for the running costs and shares in half of the revenues. As the owner, Libéma has to take care of the maintenance of the Prins Willem. During 2009, the ship was therefore open to the public and available for rent. A potential buyer would therefore only be able to be in the possession of the Prins Willem in 2010 (Noord-Hollands Dagblad, 02/02/09). However, this has never materialised, as the Prins Willem was completely destroyed by a fire on 30 July 2009.

In the night of Thursday 30 July, a fire completely destroyed the replica in Den Helder. Shortly after midnight smoke was coming out of the ship. This was probably caused by a failure of the cooling installation at the bar at the very bottom of the ship, which was used for parties. There is no evidence that indicate intent. Thick smoke hampered the work of the firemen. It would have been too risky for the firemen to enter the ship. Around four o’clock, flames were coming out of the ship. The mizzen-mast fell overboard around half past four, followed thirty minutes later by the main-mast and fore-mast. The firemen couldn’t do anything else but try to contain the fire to the ship itself. At the beginning of November 2009, shortly after the owner Libéma announced that it would not restore the Prins Willem, Shipyard Talsma bought the burned-out shell. This shipyard wants to restore the ship entirely. Thanks to this admirable initiative, the ship may be preserved for the Netherlands after all. On 11 December 2009, the hull of the Prins Willem has been towed to Harlingen, where the restoration will take place. The yard thinks it will take three to four years to restore the ship. It is still unknown where the ship will go, or which function it will have after the restoration.