|The World Ocean & Cruise
| PORTUGAL'S "SANTA MARIA"
By William H. Miller
made headlines all over the world. She dominated the evening news on American television
for a week. For eleven days, the name of the Portuguese passenger liner SANTA MARIA (the
U.S.-flag Grace Line had a ship of the same name at the same time and the two sometimes
met in the Caribbean) became a household item.
On January 22, 1961,while sailing in West Indian waters, she was hijacked by terrorist rebels. The capture of the 609-foot long SANTA MARIA made history. Several books have since been written about this affair.
Owned by Companhia Colonial of Lisbon, the 20,900-ton ship and her twin sister, the VERA CRUZ, were the largest and most luxurious Portuguese-flag liners of their time. While their owners were primarily interested in the colonial trade to Portuguese Africa, to Angola and Mozambique, and also in the migrant trade to Brazil, the 1,078-passenger SANTA MARIA was rather unique in being detoured to a special mid-Atlantic service. Based at Lisbon, she called at Madeira, Teneriffe, La Guaira, Curacao, Havana (later changed to San Juan) and finally to Port Everglades, which was then a small, developing port. Her trade was generally migrants to Venezuela and general passenger traffic otherwise. She had a very fine first class for 156 travelers, a smaller, less ornate cabin class for 226 and then a large, but rather basic third class for nearly 700. Built at Hoboken in Belgium, the 20-knot SANTA MARIA was completed in late 1953 and was used initially on the South American run. Her Caribbean sailings began a year later and the extended service to Florida, then quite a novelty, was introduced in October 1956. Also, utilizing only her first and cabin class quarters, she also ran periodic cruises out of Lisbon to Madeira and into the Mediterranean, and from La Guaira to the Caribbean isles. The hijacking took place after the ship departed from La Guaira. An armed band of Portuguese political insurgents, traveling as passengers, took command of the ship. Radio connections were stopped and, for several days, her whereabouts were unknown. A huge air-sea search was mounted before the ship was finally surrendered without any loss of life or damages. She was returned to her owners at Recife in, Brazil and where the terrorists were arrested. Luis Miguel Correia, Portugal's foremost maritime historian, recalled the event. "Captain Henrique Galvao and his team of 24 Portuguese and Spanish rebels, operating from a base in Venezuela, decided to attack a passenger ship from one of the Iberian nations to protest the dictatorships of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. The SANTA MARIA was selected because she was by far the largest and best ship, although two Spanish liners, the COVADONGA and the GUADALUPE, were also considered.
The rebels' intention was to sail the ship to the island of Fernando Po in Spanish Guinea in West Africa. Once there, they hoped to seize the island and eventually launch an attack on Portuguese Angola. Realistically, I think that Captain Galvao only hoped to get the international press to pay attention to those Iberian dictatorships." The SANTA MARIA later resumed her Florida-Caribbean sailings, but inevitably grew older and less profitable, especially in the face of increased airline competition. Luis Miguel Correia recalled the end of the twenty-year-old ship. "She arrived at Lisbon for the last time, in April 1973, with engine troubles. Major repairs would have been impractical. And so, this was just enough to finish her off. Temporarily repaired, she departed a month later on a cargo voyage to Luanda and Lourenco Marques. She carried general cargo as well as dozens of automobiles, many of which were stowed on her outer decks. Once at Lourenco Marques, she had another duty to perform. She towed two small Companhia Colonial freighters to a scrap yard in Mauritius. Afterward, she sailed empty and with a small crew to Taiwan, where she herself was scrapped. It was the end for Portugal's SANTA MARIA.
Reprinted from a past issue of
Ocean & Cruise News.
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