PART OF ARUBA’S WWII HISTORY TO BE SET ON SHORE THIS SATURDAY
Aruba went to bed the night of February 16, 1942, expecting the usual good night’s sleep. The noise of destruction broke silence…….Aruba’s war begins.
Two of Lago’s steam-driven lake tankers, Pedernales and the Oranjestad were anchored off the reef at San Nicolas Bay waiting to be berthed in the harbor to unload their crude from Lake Maracaibo. An eyewitness reported that the tankers were directly off of Bungalow 59 of the Lago Colony and about ¼ mile out from the reef.
The attack on the Lago Refinery by the German U-boat 156 began at 1:31 hour when Captain Hartenstein ordered "Fire Torpedo" and 48 seconds later the lake tanker Pedernales was hit in the side and exploded into a fire ball. The Pedernales burned but did not sink and the next day she was towed to the Lago Dry Dock. The mid-section was removed, the bow and aft sections were rejoined together and she made her way to the U.S.A. to be refitted with a new mid-section.
Two minutes later Captain Hartenstein ordered a second torpedo to be launched. The second torpedo hit the lake tanker Oranjestad and it too became an inferno. Unlike the Pedernales, it sank. It became the first tanker to be sunk in the entire Western Hemisphere during World War II.
Crew members were shouting in their burning cabins. Others were trying to reach the lifeboats and some were jumping overboard. The crew consisted of 25 and unfortunately, fifteen lost their lives.
Today, it is 67 years ago that the SS Oranjestad was sunk by U-156. But in the meantime someone by the name of Percy Sweetnam, a professional and certified diver, in one of his many dives, found the tanker. On the second dive the group, consisting of Percy, Dick de Bruin, and Andre Loonstra, noted that the propeller was broken from its shaft. Apparently, when the tanker went down it fell on its stern and broke the propeller’s shaft. Then in a meeting between Percy, Dick, and Andre Loonstra, in Andre’s garage they discussed how they could reach their goals to recover this propeller.
This sparked a fire between the groups’ minds that some day they would like to bring this propeller to shore and have it made into a monument to remind everyone how lucky Aruba was during WWII and at the same time dedicate it to all those who lost their lives on Lago’s lake tankers during WWII.
From mid-February of this year, Percy with his team of divers started with the diving project. The team includes five experienced divers, Paul Martijn, Toine van der Klooster, Rigo Hoenkamp, Dick de Bruin and Andre Loonstra.
Preparations immediately began with the possibility that the propeller could be used as a memorial monument. After the initial dive and thoroughly studying the underwater images, it was decided that the recovery could be realized. The depth of 225 feet and strong current were the greatest obstacles during the recovery dive project. Based on this, many deep dives had to be made to ensure that a step by step procedure be used to reach a final but positive end result. It was then decided that to recover it safely, it would take three phases to accomplish their goals.
Last Monday, April 13th, Percy and his team consisting of Dick de Bruin, Andre Loonstra, Paul Martijn, Toine van der Klooster, and Rigo Hoenkamp successfully accomplished phase I of the project. They recovered the propeller with a 4000 lbs. lifting bag to the surface which was then immediately towed to the reef and was left at a depth of 40 feet, awaiting phase II.
On Tuesday, April 14th, Percy and two of his divers, Andre Loonstra and Paul Martijn did phase II by lifting the propeller from its 40-foot position and towing it inside the lagoon at Commandeursbaai, Savaneta, awaiting phase III, the onshore lift.
This Saturday, April 18th, after 67 years, Percy and his divers will make history by lifting a piece of Aruba’s WWII history. The propeller will be moved closer to shore and lifted with a crane and set on shore at Cañon, between Zeerover and Brisas del Mar Bar/Restaurant. If things work out well, in the future it will be placed as a memorial in the Lago Colony, close to where it all happened. Undoubtedly, this will also serve as a tourist attraction.
We hereby wish to extend an invitation to all the media and the public in general to come witness this historic event at 11:00am on Saturday, April 18th..
(Note: For photos, please go to www.lago-colony.com , then click Lago Colony & Lago Refinery Aruba, and finally click on Historic Day in Aruba in order to choose any photo you would like to attach to the news.)
Signed: Percy Sweetnam and the Propeller Recovery Team
April 16, 2009
CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF THE FIRST DIVE ON THE ORANJESTAD
CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF THE LIFTING OF THE PROPELLER FROM THE BOTTOM
CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF THE LIFTING OF THE PROPELLER FROM THESEA TO LAND
CLICK ON EACH SHOW TO SPEED UP THE SHOW, TIMED FOR 8 SECONDS PER SLIDE