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Liner's Plight Recalls 1961 Ship Seizure : Crew Member Killed When Portuguese Rebels Staged Hijack

October 08, 1985|From United Press International

The plight of the hijacked luxury liner Achille Lauro, floating in the Mediterranean today under control of a dozen Palestinian guerrillas, had an antecedent in a 1961 incident, when an exiled Portuguese opposition leader and a band of about 30 gunmen seized the Portuguese ship Santa Maria with 600 passengers in the Caribbean.

One Santa Maria crew member was killed and two others were injured when the forces of Capt. Henrique Galvao took control of the 20,900-ton liner Jan. 22 and cruised the western Atlantic for 12 days, pursued by warships from the United States, Britain, Brazil, Portugual and Spain.

Galvao, who did not harm any of the Portuguese, American, Dutch, Venezuelan and Spanish passengers, said he took the ship to protest the regime of longtime Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar.

What The Times of London called "an act of piracy unequaled in modern times" ended without further casualties.

After negotiations with U.S. and Brazilian naval officers, Galvao allowed the passengers to disembark at Recife, Brazil, on Feb. 2 and the next day went ashore with his men after being granted political asylum in Brazil.

Bomb Threat in 1972

In May, 1972, a telephone caller to the Cunard Line office in New York warned that there was a bomb aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 and threatened to blow it up unless he was given $1 million. The ship, carrying about 2,500 people, was in the mid-Atlantic on a voyage from New York to Southampton, England.

The British military dispatched a team of four demolition experts of the Special Boat Squadron that parachuted into the Atlantic near the QE2 and was picked up to search the vessel.

No bomb was found, and the episode was considered a hoax. No money was paid over, but later a man was sentenced in New York to 20 years in prison for extortion.

Other international shipping incidents involving non-civilian ships commanded attention in the 1960s and 1970s.

On the night of Jan. 22, 1968, North Korean patrol boats seized the 906-ton U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo, the first American naval vessel captured at sea since 1812.

Cambodian Incident

After 10 months of secret negotiations, the ship's 82 crew members and the body of a crewman fatally wounded in the takeover were returned Dec. 23, 1968, after 11 months and one day of captivity.

On May 12, 1975, a Cambodian gunboat fired on and seized the U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez, en route from Hong Kong to Thailand, 60 miles from the Cambodian coast.

Two days later, in a combined air, sea and land attack, U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Tang Island believing that the Mayaguez crew was held there. In fact all 39 had been released and were picked up by a U.S. destroyer from a Thai boat taking them out of Cambodia.

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