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PostWWII Italian Ships Interned in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 01/23/18 9:03 am)
Eugenio Bataglia's post of January 22nd reminded me of a Venezuela WWII story my father-in-law once told me regarding some Italian ships that sought shelter in Puerto Cabello, an important harbor on Venezuela's west cost.
As you might know, Venezuela, during WWII, was a key supplier of oil for the Allies, despite it remaining neutral until just before the end of the war, when it declared hostilities against the Axis. Because of its neutrality, in March 1940, four ships, the Italian Baccicin Padre, Teresa Odero, Jole Faccio, and Trottiera, together with the German Sesostris, running away from British destroyers, sought shelter in the Venezuelan port. They were accepted by Venezuelan authorities and remained there for about 12 months, during which time the crews were warmly welcomed by locals and even achieved a great level of social integration with Venezuelan families, friends and girlfriends.
On March 31, 1941, under pressure from the US government, the Venezuelan authorities threatened to expropriate the ships. The captain of the Jole Faccio decided to set it on fire to avoid confiscation. The rest of the Italian captains followed suit, and all of them were burned. The flames reached the German ship, but it was the only one that remained navigable. The Italian ships all were destroyed.
The crews looked for shelter in the city but the angry population hunted them down and they were immediately imprisoned. The Italians stayed in prison for about two years, and the Germans until the end of the war. It is known that most of them remained in the country and married Venezuelan women. The Captain of the German Sesostris, Karl Ueding, stayed in the country and lived for many more years. He married and his descendants still live in the country; my father-in-law, Helmut Geyer, got to know him.
The Sesostris was towed away to a nearby island, Isla Larga. The shipwreck is still there. I have gone on dives to explore it.
JE comments: I've always been confused by the laws of neutral ports in wartime. The United States was not even at war in March 1941, when it "pressured" likewise neutral Venezuela to confiscate the Axis ships. (Granted, the US was already helping the British at the time.)
Images below. My translation of the news clipping: Indignant protests were resumed yesterday against those responsible for this horrific act-- Two businesses were nearly ransacked-- Forty crewmembers of the burned ships have not yet been arrested-- Many are hiding in houses around the city, being pursued by the mob-- A visit to the five captains at the police station-- The sadness of an authentic Sea Wolf-- "We are satisfied to have done our duty"-- Different accounts of the event-- [Crew] detained at Colonia Chirgua-- Damages that must be repaired
German ship Sesostris
Sesostris shipwreck today