WHY I STOLE A LUXURY LINER
Just ten months ago twenty-four armed men took over the Portuguese liner Santa Maria. They played tag with navies and air forces across half the Atlantic. They were the hottest news story in the world. Then they were forgotten. This is the log of their hairbreadth cruise as the rebel — or pirate? — captain lived it
LA GUAIRA IS ABOUT twelve miles north of Caracas. It is visited monthly, more or less, by various Spanish passenger ships and by the trans-Atlantic luxury liner Santa Maria, belonging to the Colonial Navigation Company, in which the Portuguese Government has a financial interest. Legally, every one of these ships constitutes a portion of the territory of its nation of registry.
Why not begin the uprising against the dictatorship on one of these floating parts of Iberia that moved to where we were, just as other uprisings began in a city or on a mountain of a nation's fixed territory? An act of piracy? Obviously not, in international law, for there would be no attack by one ship on another and the seizure would have the clearly political purpose of rebellion.
The Santa Maria, because of its prestige as a luxury liner and because of its speed and other resources, was by far the best candidate for the operation, which we called Dulcinea, because we were romantics fighting for our
lady, Liberty. Our plan was as follows:
FIRST PHASE. The seizure of the Santa Maria by commandos taking orders from me after these men had embarked at the port of La Guiara as paying passengers. Once the ship was under our control, it would change direction, sail secretly toward the west coast of Africa by way of the South Atlantic, so that it could arrive without warning at its objective.
SECOND PHASE. With our original band and those crew members who, we were sure, would join us after the ship was taken, we would make a surprise attack upon the Spanish-held African island of Fernando Pó. There we would seize a gunboat and the high authorities of Spanish Guinea. Now with the help of native forces, which we hoped would follow us, we would attack Luanda, the capital city of Angola, in an enveloping commando operation.
OBJECTIVE: the conquest and liberation of a portion of Portuguese territory where we could form a government and from which, with
adequate resources, we could unleash a war against the Salazar regime.
The first date set for Operation Dulcinea was October 14, 1960. However, four days beforehand we were still short 7,000 bolivars ($2,000) of the amount needed for fares and we had succeeded in buying, on the Caracas black market, only a few pistols and revolvers and one submachine gun. During these four days we barely scraped together enough money to feed the commandos in training.
WE STAKED EVERYTHING ON A FINAL GAMBLE
We were forced to postpone our start. The Santa Maria was scheduled again at La Guaira on December 20. Another postponement took place. The liner would return on January 20. One more postponement would mean Dulcineas utter collapse — total defeat before hostilities even began.
Our entire group sold all their remaining possessions for what they could get, sold even their own labor, in order to raise the money we still lacked. The last, breathless loan obtained by one of us was arranged three days before sailing at the monstrous rate of fifteen percent per month.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 72
This article is taken from My Crusade for Portugal by Henrique Galvao, soon to be published by The World Publishing Company.
continued from page 16
~ “Captain,” I said. “Nothing is going on — except that I have taken over your ship”
Dulcinea’s Log . . .
FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 1961
Caracas and La Guaira. The Santa Maria enters La Guaira at eight o’clock in the morning with its crew of 350 and is scheduled to leave at midnight with about 600 passengers on board. We prepare our baggage, in which we hide arms and ammunition. Because it has been impossible to raise money for everyone’s ticket, some will have to embark surreptitiously at La Guaira and Curaçao and stow away until H-hour. In any case, I will have to embark secretly for security purposes, for my name on the passenger list of a ship destined for Portugal would inevitably arouse suspicion. I shall board the ship at Curaçao, with other key members of our group: to do this I shall take a plane to Curaçao at ten o’clock in the morning. My arms and baggage are to be taken on board at La Guaira.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 21
The men with tickets had embarked, with their baggage, like any other passengers. There had been difficulties: it had been impossible to take along a box with materials for making hand grenades and another with barbed wire. During the night on board, nothing abnormal had been noted. We had exactly twenty-four men, fifteen of them Portuguese exiles, the rest Spanish and Venezuelan volunteers. Among them were men of various occupations and social levels—a sports broadcaster, a photographer, two office clerks, a locksmith, a former naval officer, a marine machinist and several carpenters, chauffeurs and mechanics.
We had arms and ammunition for fourteen, in addition to four hand grenades and some knives. We were far from being the contingent of one hundred men with automatic arms on which we had planned during the most optimistic phase of our project.
At exactly four-thirty I was at the pier where the Santa Maria was docked. It was later reported, and some newspapers stated it as a fact, that I had embarked as a paralytic in a wheel chair. This rumor must have come from someone without the least notion of the practical aspects of these things. I went on board dressed like any other man except that the brim of my hat was turned down over my eyes a little.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 22
At midnight, the beginning of the new day. all the arms were distributed and final instructions given. H-hour had been fixed at 1:30. I put my pistol, a large forty-two-caliber Colt, into my pocket and slowly went up to the assembly point, the quarter-deck used as a firstand second-class passenger promenade. In khaki uniforms without insignia, we met at the designated point. We waited there a few minutes, conversing in little groups.
At 1:45 I gave the order to attack. We were divided into two assault groups. One, commanded by Sotomayor, would occupy the radio room, the bridge, and the pilothouse. The others, under my command, would attack the quarters on the second deck where the captain, the first mate, and the other ship’s officers had their cabins. Because of the element of surprise, we hoped to accomplish our purpose without having to fire a shot. However, Sotomayor’s group, after taking the radio room without difficulty, ran into unexpected resistance on the part of the officer on the
bridge. A brief exchange of shots in the darkness resulted in the death of this officer, who deserved a better fate, and the wounding of another.
During the occupation of the pilothouse next to the bridge, the telephone rang. I answered it. It was the captain, calling from his cabin. I identified myself, certain that he knew my name and would quickly conclude that I was not on board for a pleasure trip, and said: “Captain, nothing is going on except that I have just taken over your ship.” The captain then told me that he was in his cabin with all the officers who had rushed there when the disturbances began, and asked us to come down, unarmed, and talk with him. After a short conference with the captain, the officers all immediately swore on their honor to obey us with zeal and loyalty. By this time we had occupied the bridge
and the officers’ quarters and had sent the wounded to the infirmary.
Half an hour later the Santa Maria was sailing east toward the channel between Martinique and St. Lucia.
Having secured the ship, we were now most concerned with our strategem to create an exaggerated illusion of the numbers of our men and arms. By sacrificing sleep (my own was cut down to three hours of fitful dozing), causing a rumor to be spread that, in addition to the men in uniform, members of our group were circulating among passengers and crew, and by telling the officers fantastic stories about the way we had acquired arms and explosives, our goal was fully accomplished. For the thirteen days we remained aboard the Santa Maria, the captain and crew were convinced that there were at least seventy of us. Most of the passengers thought we were one hundred. Everyone believed we had brought along a ton of explosives. It was rumored that a coffin taken aboard at La Guaira and destined for Vigo was really filled with arms.
MONDAY, JANUARY 23
Early in the morning the ship’s doctor presented us with a problem; the life of one of the two wounded men was in
danger and the ship lacked the facilities necessary to save it. The man might he saved, however, if he were put ashore and given proper medical aid. In addition, there was a man aboard suffering from a liver ailment, which had become so serious that hope of saving him depended on treatment he could receive only on shore.
At about nine o'clock we arrived at a point two miles from the island of St. Lucia. The Santa Maria stopped and the sick men were placed aboard one of the ship’s two motor launches. With them went a medical attendant, an assistant purser with seventy thousand escudos (about $2,500) from the ship’s safe for expenses, and three crewmen to operate the launch. We watched the boat moving away much as an artist might look at someone mutilating his work. A few minutes later, the Santa Maria entered the Atlantic at full speed, bound for the coast of Africa. We had just sacrificed a good part of our operational secrecy in saving the two lives, but we had won a little victory over ourselves.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 24
Full speed ahead, we continue our course toward Africa. As a prearranged measure to put people oft the track, we send a wireless message to the company’s agency in Miami, saying that the condition of the turbine has become worse and that we will be about twelve hours late. We reopen the recreation deck to the passengers. The crew moves about the ship and performs its duties in the normal way. The impression spreads throughout the ship that we are at least seventy in number and that members of our group are cii dilating incognito among passengers and crew. With the breakdown in the airconditioning system the third-class passengers on the lowest deck, the humblest of the group, suffer like the creatures in Dante’s Inferno. I order their transfer to higher decks.
Tonight, on the ship’s radio receivers, we heard the first outside echoes of the seizure of the Santa Maria. “Seventy passengers on the Portuguese transatlantic liner Santa Maria mutinied yesterday and, with machine guns and hand grenades, took command of the ship after it had left Curaçao hound for Miami."
From Washington: "A real pirate chase was started yesterday by the British and American navies to find the Portuguese liner Santa Maria, which has fallen into the hands of mutinous passengers."
At the same time it was announced that an English warship was in pursuit of us; later, that several American destroyers, based at Puerto Rico, had joined the pursuit. The announcement added that the mutineers were being led by an ex-caplain of the Portuguese Navy, who had sent messages to the warships saying he would sink the Santa Maria if they overtook it and tried to board it. And so the communications industry, which is generally more concerned with sensationalism than with accuracy, began to relate not a historical event but a tall story.
From Lisbon we heard a statement by Salazar’s Government, which had been taken by surprise: "The Portuguese liner Santa Maria, in the course of its regular stops at La Guaira and Guraçao, was boarded, along with hundreds of other passengers, by seventy individuals who were planning to commit a criminal act.
Later, we heard that the Defense Department in Washington had stated that "the action of the mutineers falls clearly under the crime of piracy” and that a pirate captured in flagrante delicto might be condemned to death without formal proceedings and hanged to the mainmast.
One thing appeared certain: at least three warships, possibly four, of two or
three NATO powers, with their retinue of airplanes, had started out in pursuit of us.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25
By the news reports coming to us over the ship's radio, we know that the pursuit continues. At the same time we get the impression that world opinion is starting to turn in our favor and to reject the idea that we are pirates on the scale of Captain Kidd and Sir Henry Morgan.
A political storm over the use of British warships in our pursuit broke in the House
of Commons. A few hours later, we learned that the British warships had abandoned the pursuit, under the pretext that they had run out of fuel! The French Government, according to bulletins from Paris, had not complied with Salazar’s request that it join in the hunt for us.
I send messages to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the U. S. State Department asking that our status as political rebels at war be recognized: as expected, we receive no replies. In compensation. I receive a message from Admiral Robert Dennison, Commander of
the United States Atlantic Fleet. It is the beginning of a long radioed dialogue. He refers to my declared intention to put the passengers ashore, and suggests for this purpose any port in North or South America. I reply, reaffirming my intention, but impose the condition that guarantees of safety be given to the passengers, ourselves. and the ship, which we do not intend to abandon.
About six p.m. we were discovered by an American military plane. The cats had found the mouse at last. and. even if the mouse managed to resist capture, it could
no longer go where it wanted to go.
The situation on the ship remains tranquil. In the salons, with curtains drawn, the ship's orchestras play and the passengers dance. On the first-class deck, at a time of lethargic silence, 1 come unexpectedly across a pair of passengers in amorous embrace, so oblivious of the world that I pass unnoticed, like one of the shadows of the night. 1 move away rapidly in order not to disturb them.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26
The morning sky reveals no sign of pursuit. The first important news from the ship’s radio tells us that President Kennedy, in his first press conference, has declared that the American warships have received no order to board the Santa Maria. The captain, always grateful for our treatment of him. tells us he is worried about the ship's water supply. The amount of water on board may prove inadequate not only for purposes of food and hygiene but also for ballast. I order a rationing of water that will permit us five days more without an additional supply.
The foreign passengers, especially the Americans, are the most calm and understanding. Some go beyond cordiality and become our charming friends. 1 have warm memories of one who became, so to speak, a member of our group in spirit and of a young married couple who, to our great benefit, made their help constantly available. We keep the passengers informed of developments in the negotiations for their debarkation. They can receive, by radio, the same news reports we receive.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 27
We have given the world the emotional shock we meant to give it; international public opinion has clearly rejected the thesis that we are pirates or mutineers and it recognizes our position as rebels and the sincerity of our aims.
The commander-in-chief of the American Atlantic Fleet would obviously like to have the Americans and, if possible, the other passengers debark at any nearby port. We are faced with additional difficulties. We wish—we are eager—to put the passengers ashore, but under conditions that do not imply surrender, danger to our men, or loss of the ship. Accordingly, either we or the Americans must persuade the government of the country chosen for the manœuvre to agree to the conditions we deem essential.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28
Our wireless dialogue with the U. S. Atlantic Fleet is intensified today. The last message of the day was the following:
280513 7. FOR HF.NRIQUH GAI.VAO.
I APPRECIATE VERY MUCH YOUR MESSAGES INDICATING YOUR WILLINGNESS TO FACILITATE DISCHARGE OF PASSENGERS. IT IS MY HOPE THAT YOU WILL AGREE TO MY SUGGESTION TO PROCEED TO BELEM. REAR ADMIRAL ALLEN SMITH, UNHID STATES NAVY, EMBARKED IN THE DESTROYER WILSON, HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS MY PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE TO CONFER WITH YOU RESPECT TO DISEMBARKING PASSENGERS. HE WILL PROCEED OUI OF BELEM AND MEET SANTA MARIA . . .
I informed Admiral Dennison, with my regrets for not accepting his suggestion, that I would head for the nearest Brazilian port (Recife) where, in international waters fifty miles off the coast, 1 would await his representative. Admiral Alien Smith. The meeting was definitely agreed upon.
A certain restlessness begins to develop among the crew, for some of them, especially those least favorably disposed toward us, fear they will not be put
ashore. The foreign passengers, especially the Americans, take pictures of everything and everyone, with no hindrance. By the messages they send and receive, 1 note that some are making excellent business deals-—to sell their photographs to the press or to write stories of life aboard the Santa Maria. Figures in thousands of dollars are proposed. 1 myself receive many offers. They want me to write a book, to do articles for the periodicals,
to appear on television, even to act in a motion picture! About this time 1 received a cable from an American pub-
lisher making an offer for book, television, motion picture and personal appearance rights to the Santa Maria story. My reply: “No time for literature!”
SUNDAY, JANUARY 29
At our request, the purser opens the ship’s safe and we check the contents. We also open the diplomatic pouch. It contains mostly articles of contraband
that the ambassador is sending as presents to friends and relatives. Our men laugh and. by way of customs duties, eat some of the caramels found in it. We are moving slowly in the direction of Recife, our rendezvous with Admiral Allen Smith. At night we can see lights on the Brazilian coast.
MONDAY, JANUARY 30
Sometimes I am attacked by crises of fatigue, the result of my not having slept more than two restless hours out of each twenty-four. I take a cold bath, which restores my vigor.
At daybreak we are forty-five miles from Recife. There is nothing for us to do now but kill time. The bulletins we receive continue to please us—even the one informing us that an executive of the shipping company, after a breathless arrival in Recife, has declared that “Galvao and Delgado should be shot.”
In the evening I give a farewell dinner, with the firstand second-class passengers both invited to the first-class dining room. The purser plans the occasion as if this were a celebration for Salazar himself. It is my first meal in the first-class dining room, and I occupy the place reserved for the ship's captain. After dinner, most of the passengers ask Sotomayor and myself to autograph the elaborate souvenir menu which states that the affair is taking place on the Santa Maria's “voyage to liberty.” Afterward there is dancing anti merrymaking.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 31
The conference with Admiral Allen Smith, who is now on a destroyer anchored three hundred and fifty yards from the Santa Maria, amounts to American tacit
recognition of our political status as rebels. At ten o’clock, a motor launch conveying Admiral Smith arrives, and he boards the Santa Maria.
In addition to those who had succeeded in getting on the ship, more than three hundred newsmen from all over the world waited in vessels. All the passengers were on deck, impatient for the result of the conference. Suddenly a parachute descended from a plane flying over the Santa Maria. It was the French parachutist Gil Delamare, in the service of a news agency. Delamare missed his target and fell into the shark-infested waters, from which one of our launches rescued him. Half an hour later another parachutist tried and missed, and was picked up by the American destroyer. Four warships now surrounded the Santa Maria.
At noon, Admiral Smith took his leave. He received the same military honors as when he came on board, and I accompanied him to the gangway stairs.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 1
We cast anchor just outside the limits of Brazil’s territorial waters. We can see the city, spread out in the hot sun, and it seems to open its hospitable arms to us.
I finally receive the following radiogram from President Janio Quadros: YOU MAY
BE SURE THAT IN THE EXERCISE OF MY CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS YOU WILL BE GRANTED THE RIGHT OF ASYLUM IN OUR NATIONAL TERRITORY AND WHATEVER ELSE IS PERMITTED ME BY THE LAWS AND TREATIES NOW IN EFFECT.
So far as we were concerned, there was nothing to prevent the passengers from departing the next day.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2
A build-up of naval power outside of Recife, beginning in the early hours of the morning, looks more and more like the reception for a chief of state: six warships, including a submarine, two American tankers, and various smaller vessels with newsmen and local maritime authorities.
About half past nine the pilot came on board. Captain Maia went up to the bridge. As the ship was heading into the harbor. Captain Maia, with a severe expression on his face, shouted to the pilot:
“Steer the ship onto those rocks!”
To which the pilot, apparently undisturbed, replied:
“Steer it there yourself if you have the nerve.”
The ship anchored about three hundred and fifty yards from the pier.
A little before noon, the passengers began to leave the ship. They were followed by the crew. The whole operation lasted the remainder of the day.
We now had two choices: (1 ) we could return to international waters, have our men leave the ship, and then sink it with the commanders of the operation on board; or (2) we could deliver the ship to the Brazilian authorities and let them decide what to do with it.
Sometimes the sinking of the ship seemed the most dignified conclusion to our adventure as well as the one that would best serve to perpetuate the emotion aroused throughout the world by the case of the Santa Maria. At other times this solution seemed excessively romantic to me, and it also seemed to place a definitive stop to a struggle that had barely begun.
By ten o’clock the next day I had definitely decided, with Sotomayor’s accord, to turn the ship over to Brazil.
People everywhere ask me the same question:
We are not standing still. ★