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D/S Port Antonio
Owner: A/S Gulftrade
Built by Sørlandets Skibsbyggeri A/S, Fevig, Norway in 1913.
Captain: Oscar Gundersen
According to Page 1 above, Port Antonio was on her way from New York to Santa Marta when war broke out in Norway on Apr. 9-1940. Her 1941 voyages start on Page 2 and continue on Page 3. The latter document also shows some 1942 voyages.
Port Antonio, on charter to United Fruit Company, was on a voyage from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala to Tampa (for orders) with a cargo of coffee, having departed on July 17-1942 (or July 18, depending on time zone - see also Page 4), when she on July 19 was struck amidships, starboard side, probably in the coal bunkers forward of the boiler room, by a torpedo from U-129 (Witt), position 23 39N 84 00W (about 48 miles from the island of Cape Jutias). She was on a course 51, speed of 11 knots, not zig-zagging, radio silent. The weather was clear, sea smooth, wind NE, force 3, visibility good, no ships in sight.
A terrific explosion followed, instantly breaking loose about everything on the ship and blowing out the center section. The ship could not be maneuvered; no distress signal was sent (Port Antonio had no armament on board). She sank within two minutes, buckling and going down with stern and poop up, taking the captain and 12 crew with her. The crew abandoned ship by jumping overboard, many of them with no clothes on.
The 1st mate was in the messroom when the attack occurred at about 12:18 (ship's time?), as were the 1st and 2nd engineers and the mess boy; the cook had been standing in the doorway - only the 1st mate survived. It appears the ceiling fell down and the 1st mate broke his wrist so that he was unable to tie the lifevest properly around him once he had managed to get up on the boat deck. He then grabbed an axe in order to free the port lifeboat, but before he could do so the boat deck sank under him and he went down with the ship. As he struggled to get to the surface again, something hit him on the chin, causing him to lose 4 teeth and leaving him with a wound under his chin.
The ship had broken in the middle, forming a V before it went down. The sea was full of planks and other debris, and he managed to grab hold of a ladder, on which the carpenter had already saved himself; both were picked up by the starboard lifeboat about 10-15 minutes later. The 2nd mate had command of this boat. He had not been feeling well that morning so had gone to bed while the captain had taken over his watch on the bridge. As he (the 2nd mate) came out on the after deck he noticed that the starboard lifeboat had torn itself loose and came drifting alongside the ship which was already sinking so it was easy for him to jump into the boat. He then picked up Able Seamen Jørgensen and Pettersen from the water, and later also helped Stoker Jørgensen get on board.
At this time the U-boat approached, the usual questions about ship and cargo etc. were asked and directions for Cuba given before it left again*. It was visible for about half an hour.
After a while they picked up other men from the water, then transferred some water and supplies from one of the ship's rafts. The 2nd mate felt that the reason why so many people perished was the fact that a lot of heavy objects had fallen down in the explosion.
The donkeyman had just gone back to his cabin to rest after dinner when the torpedo struck. On the after deck he met the carpenter, Stoker Paulsen and Ordinary Seaman Jensen. The latter 2 managed to launch a raft but just then the ship sank under their feet. As they came to the surface again the donkeyman and Stoker Paulsen were able to get onto the raft (the carpenter saved himself on a ladder, as mentioned above). The ordinary seaman, however, was not seen again (he could not swim). The carpenter had initially been in the crew's messroom as had Able Seaman Jørgensen. The sea washing over the ship pushed the messroom door shut, but the 2 threw themselves against it and managed to get it open. (Able Seaman Jørgensen jumped overboard, and was picked up by the 2nd mate, as mentioned).
Stokers Paulsen and Bårdsen had been eating their meal outside the mess room, and when the sea came over the ship the 2 were thrown around the after deck twice. After Stoker Paulsen and the donkeyman had climbed on the raft, they rowed over to Stoker Bårdsen who was holding on to the ship's vegetable crate and picked him up. The 3 on the raft were later picked up by the starboard lifeboat. Able Seaman Pettersen had also been in the crew's messroom (where 4 seamen also had their bunks), he jumped overboard and swam over to the lifeboat.
The 3rd engineer, who was on duty in the engine room, stated later that the ship was ripped open horizontally, and listed to port so that he fell flat on his back. Water gushed in through the crack and by the time he had gotten to his feet he was standing in water up to his chest, so was unable to stop the engine. He had great difficulty getting to the ladder and up to the boat deck because his left arm had been hit by shrapnel. When he came up he saw no one so assumed he was the last to leave the ship when he jumped overboard. He briefly saw the captain in the water, but could not determine whether he was alive or not - in fact, he appears to have been the only one to see the captain after the attack. He (the 3rd engineer) had not had time to get a lifebelt, but was able to hold on to some debris until he was picked up by the lifeboat about 15 minutes later.
The 11 survivors put out a sea anchor and remained in the area for 4 hours in the hopes of finding more shipmates, but none were seen, so sail was hoisted and they proceeded towards land. They landed at Santa Lucia on the Cuban coast, a little west of the Cape Jutias Light on July 21, having spent 45 hours in the lifeboat. The rowing had been difficult due to the hot weather, and because of the lack of wind during the day, the sails could only be used in the evening breeze. The day after the landing they continued to Havana escorted by Cuban Naval personnel. An inquiry was held there on July 25-1942 with the 1st and 2nd mates, the 3rd engineer, the donkeyman, the carpenter, Able Seamen Jørgensen and Pettersen and Stoker Paulsen appearing. Most of the text above has been assembled from their various statements.
Witt had previously sunk 2 other Norwegian ships in the month of July, D/S Cadmus and M/S Gundersen - I had a note in my files that Jørgen Edvard Magnussen who had been on board Cadmus when she was sunk only 18 days before was also one of the survivors of Port Antonio. However, he's not included in the crew list found in "Sjøforklaringer for 2. verdenskrig", so I don't know whether he was on Port Antonio at the time of her loss (either as a crew member or as a passenger). He worked as a janitor for the Norwegian Seamen's Church in Baltimore towards the end of the war.
Stoker Evensen and Able Seaman Michalsen had been in the fireroom when the torpedo hit, the latter having taken over Stoker Mathisen's watch, as he had taken ill.
Related external links:
Back to Port Antonio on the "Ships starting with P" page.
The text on this page was compiled with the help of: "Sjøforklaringer fra 2. verdenskrig", Volume II (Norwegian Maritime Museum), summary of statements by survivors (signed U.S.N.R. Lieutenant A. J. Powers), received from Tony Cooper, England, and misc. (ref. My sources).