The Maracay, just one of many Lake Tankers that ran between Lake Maracaibo and Aruba supplying the Lago refinery with the crude oil it needed to stay in business.






The photograph above is the Esso Trujillo running empty.  The photo to the right is the Esso Maracay loaded, being tied up to a dock to be ready to be unloaded.

Most of the officers on the Lake Tankers were from England and many of them had family who lived in Lago Colony while they sailed back and forth to Lake Maracaibo.




All the maintenance on the Lake Tankers was done at the dry-dock in Aruba.  This photograph shows the Esso Trujillo (right) in dry-dock.  The tanker to the left is tied to the pier next to the dry-dock but is till in the water. 

The bridge of the lake tanker, from here the ship is steered and the mid-ship is where the Captain and Officers live, in quarters under the bridge.  Note the "wings" off each side of the bridge so the person in charge can walk out and look down each side of the tanker as well as aft.

The photo to the right shows two officers on the wing of the bridge.  The door goes into the part of the bridge from where the ship is steered.





This photo to the left shows a seaman steering the Lake Tanker.

The Pedernales, one of the early Lake Tankers was torpedoed on February 16, 1942, the night the German U-Boat U-156 attack four tankers.  Of the four that were torpedo three of them sank.  The Pedernales was torpedo in the mid-ship and the crew managed to beach the tanker.  After she was pulled from the beach she was taken to the Lago Dry Dock, the mid-ship section was cut out and the bow and aft end were welded together, a temporary wheel house (bridge) was added and she was taken to Baltimore under her own steam and a new mid-ship section (tanks) were installed and she returned to Aruba and was put back into service.  To link to the story of the U-Boat attack. (LINK TO U-156) 


The war years were not kind to the Lake Tankers and a couple were torpedoed by German U-Boats.  The Lake Tanker Pedernales, shown right, before she was torpedoed.






And the Lake Tanker Pedernales, shown left, after she was torpedoed.

Picture on the right, a view from the Bridge of the Esso Trujillo looking aft to the back of the Lake Tanker.







The picture on the left is the deck of the Esso Trujillo, she is high in the water so must be going back to Make Maracaibo for a load of crude.




The entire operation in Aruba depended on a fleet of little tankers that carried the crude from Lake Maracaibo, through the shallow cannel to the Caribbean Sea and onto Aruba.
The fleet of Lake Tankers were referred to as "The Mosquito Fleet".  Why it was referred to by that name I have not been able to ascertain.  Was it because the buzzed back and forth between Aruba and Lake Maracaibo like swarms of mosquitoes, sucking up crude like blood, or was it because of the mosquitoes they must have encountered while at the lake and making the passage through the shallow cannel into the lake.
The first lake tankers were supplied by and managed by Andrew Weir and Co. Ltd. of London and the officers and some of the early crew were men of the English Merchant Marine and most were Scots.  How long the lake tanker fleet ran under the management of Andrew Weir I have not been able to find out.

he first two lake tankers were the Francunion and the Inverhampton.  The Inverhampton was lost on a sand bar going into Lake Maracaibo and showed as a cross on charts of the bar for many years.

You can better understand how a ship of this size was lost crossing the bar when you read the following account from someone who had first hand knowledge of the trip.  This description of crossing the bar in the early years, before dredging had begun, is by Captain F. C. Alexander and I found it on Auke Visser's web site, Other Esso related Companies.

"The Fairway Buoy to the seaward side of the bar was the only lighted one.  When a master got his ship to its vicinity in the small hours of the morning, he usually had to maneuver around, invariable in a N.E. gale with a heavy sea running and with his ship in ballast, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn and sight of the leading mark poles set up on the sandy shore to guide him over the outer bar.  It was a weird and nerve-wracking experience going over the outer bar at the break of dawn until one got used to it.  With a heavy following sea in the shallow water the breakers stretched for miles, and were as high sometimes as the rollers in a Western Ocean gale.  In going over the bar it was nothing less than full speed, heading for the beach with a heavy surf just a matter of four or five hundred yards away and trying to hold the ship on mark.  If the master got off the mark, he "had it"."

"With a depth of water of only about 12 feet, in a heavy sea, the bumps were frequent and pooping was not uncommon, (For you landlubbers, pooping is a nautical term, that mean: To take seas over the stern of the ship) On a rough morning it was not infrequent for most of the crew to be on deck and I can remember  one morning when we pooped a big sea to hear wild yells from aft and glimpsed an avalanche of water coming through the port and starboard alleyways aft in which were submerged, men, dogs, deck chairs, pots and pans and ship's gear."

"A right angle turn to the east was made just before the ship hit the beach, which brought her into the buoyed channel, where one had to contend with traffic rolling and abnormal leeway with a weather beach just a ship's length away."
"A right angle turn to the east was made just before the ship hit the beach, which brought her into the buoyed channel, where one had to contend with traffic rolling and abnormal leeway with a weather beach just a ship's length away."
"Coming out with a loaded ship was a nightmare, for the maximum loaded draft then was 9 feet.  Never were tide tables studied so carefully or height of tide problems so studiously worked out to the inch.  It was usual to allow for 18 inches under the keel, an extra inch in draft represented a few more barrels of oil out of the lake, and this despite the fact that heavy seas might be encountered going out over the outer bar.  The vessels just bumped their way out with never any apparent bottom damage."
"If a ship ran ashore, the pilots, splendid chaps all, invariably gave up in disgust and let it to the master to get the ship afloat again as quickly as possible.  If he took a couple of hours to do this he would lose the high tide at the outer bar and be hours late in arriving in San Nicholaas, a little matter Captain Rodger did not appreciate if it happened to often."


To make such a trip twice a week, as the lake tankers did, took a lot of courage and a great deal of seamanship on the part of the crew.  I have found only the one account of a lake tanker being lost making the trip over the outer bar and that was the Inverhampton and she was lost very early on in the history of the Lago refinery.

The photos below show what Lake Maracaibo looked like after reaching it.  Following these photos is a continuation of the story of the Lake Tankers and the ones that were built during World War II.


Arriving in Lake Maracaibo and all the oil wells out in the middle of the lake is a very interesting site.








To find out more about the Lake Tankers and Lago Shipping and some wonderful photos of the old tankers, go to Auke Visser's web site:
The following information about Lake Tankers is taken from Dan Jensen's short history of Lago refinery. 


 The Lake Tankers, The Supply Line to the Lago Refinery

  The entire operation in Aruba depended on a fleet of little tankers that carried the crude from Lake Maracaibo, through the shallow cannel to Aruba.  Now is a good time to go into a little about the lake tanker fleet that served the Aruba refinery.

The operation of the lake tankers (a lake tanker was a small vessel of about 6,000 tons) was critical to the operation of the Aruba refinery and although ownership of the tankers changed during the period they always operated to supply the Aruba refinery until after World War II.

These lake tankers must have been well built, two of them, the Inverrosa and the Inverruba were reassigned to act as fuel oilers off the coast of West Africa, they served for four years without going to dry-dock or undergoing major repairs.   Three of the lake tankers, because of their shallow draft and flat bottoms, were converted into tank landing ships (LST’s); they were the Bachaquero, Misoa and the Tusajera.

 The German High Command, realizing the importance of the refineries in Aruba and Curaçao, sent a task force of U-boats to disrupt the shipments of crude to these refineries.  In this attack on the night of February 16, 1942 four lake tankers, the Pedernalas, Oranjestad, Tia Juana, and the San Nicholas, were torpedoed and three sank and the forth, the Pedernalas, was beached with her mid-section, (the bridge and ships steering), destroyed.  She was taken to the dry dock at Lago, the mid section was removed and the fore and aft section welded together, a temporary wheel house was added at the dry-dock in Aruba and she made it to Baltimore under her own power, where a new amidships section was added.  These four lake tankers had a total crew of 102 and of those, 47 lost their lives.  This attack put a great strain on the remainder lake tankers to supply crude to the Aruba refinery.

Before the attack the lake tankers were not protected, after the attack operations were restricted to daylight hours and naval destroyers escorted the tankers.   This practice lengthened the turnaround time from 2.58 days to 4 days.  The loss of the four-torpedoed tankers cut the amount of crude carried to Aruba by 115,700 barrels per day.  This was another contributing factor to the loss of production at the Aruba refinery in 1941.

 This loss of production prompted the Maritime Commission to approve the construction of seven new lake tankers under wartime conditions, using materials that were in short supply.

The contract for these seven lake tankers was signed on April 30, 1942.  The contract was for a shallow-draft, twin-screw, steam-powered tanker of the Boscan class.  These tankers were designed to have a capacity of 5,650 tons and a speed of about 10 knots. The contract to build these new ships was signed with the Barnes-Duluth Shipbuilding Company of Duluth, Minnesota.  The first tanker was delivered on July 1, 1943 and the seventh tanker was delivered on in October 1943.  The San Joaquin was delivered on August 27, 1943, the Caripito on September 10, 1942, Temblador on September 20, 1943, San Cristobal on September 28, 1943, Guiria on October 21, 1943, Guarico on October 28, 1943 and Valera on November 8, 1943.  The Valera was torpedoed on March 7, 1944 off the coast of Barranquilla, Columbia while carrying a cargo of fuel oil from Aruba to the Panama Canal.  All of the crew and officers, except for the Captain, escaped the burning, sinking ship and were rescued.

To get these new lake tankers to Aruba they were sailed from Duluth, Minnesota, through Lake Superior, the St. Mary's River, Soo Locks, the northern section of Lake Huron, Mackinac Straits, the entire length of Lake Michigan to Chicago, through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Cannel, the Des Plaines River, the Illinois River and into the Mississippi and down to New Orleans.  The trip had to be made in daylight hours, as there were no night navigational aids on the rivers at the time.  It was a distance of 2,247 miles and one tanker took 28 days and the shortest time to make the trip was 15 days.

In New Orleans the tankers were again dry-docked, defense equipment was installed, (presumably deck guns) the wheelhouse and mast were added and the bottom was again painted before going on to Aruba.  Because of low bridges encountered on the trip the ships could not have a height in excess of 53' 6".  Therefore, they left the Duluth shipyard without a wheelhouse cover, superstructure or masts.

In the early 1950's new ports were built in Venezuela from which to ship crude, the entrance to Lake Maracaibo was dredged deeper and this allowed larger tankers to carry crude to the refineries in Curaçao and Aruba and thus the Lake Tankers were phased out of service.  This is the story of the Invercaibo and her retirement.

On December 10, 1954 the Lake Tanker "Trujillo" became the last Lake Tanker to be phased out of the fleet and the Lake Tanker fleet was no more.

The Lake Tankers were replaced by the ships show below.
These ships were registered in Venezuela and were manned by an all Venezuelan crew.