The Santa Maria was a 609-foot long, 20,900-ton luxury cruise liner. This Portuguese liner was the second largest ship the nation's merchant navy had at the time. Owned by the Companhia Colonial of Lisbon, this ship was one of the largest, most luxurious Portuguese-flag liners of that time, along with her twin sister the Vera Cruz. The Santa Maria’s primary use was for colonial trade to Angola and Mozambique, Portugal's colonies in Africa, and migrant trade to Brazil. The ship's Mid-Atlantic service was also viewed as rather out of the ordinary: Lisbon to Madeira, to Tenerife, to La Guaira, to Curacao, to Havana (later San Juan), and lastly Port Everglades. The average trade for this gray-hulled ship was mostly migrants to Venezuela and the general passenger traffic.
On January 23, 1961, the ship had 600 passengers and 300 crew members. Among the passengers were men, women, children, and 24 Iberian leftists led by Henrique Galvao.
Henrique Galvao was a Portuguese military officer and political foe of Premier Antonio Oliveiro Salazar. Galvao had thought out and planned the hijacking. Galvao’s intentions were to wage war until Salazar was overthrown in Portugal and the subsequent liberation of her colonies. He planned on using the hijacking as a way to bring attention to the Estado Novo in Portugal and the related fascist regime in Spain.
The rebels boarded the ship in La Guaira in Venezuela and in Curacao, disguised as passengers, bringing aboard suitcases. The suitcases had secret compartments to hide their weapons.
The terrorists, along with Henrique Galvao, seized the ship, ceased all communication, and killed one officer and wounded several others in th process of taking complete command over the ship. The rebels forced crew members, along with the captain of the ship, Mario Simoes Maia, to take the ship on a different coarse.
The whereabouts of the ship remained unknown for several days. The boat had disappeared on the high seas until a massive sea and air search eventually tracked the liner down in the Mid-Atlantic heading towards Africa.
The journey of the hijacked Santa Maria was eventually cut short due to a troubled engine and problems with the 900 captives on the ship. After almost a fortnight the hijacked ship finally docked after evading the authorities for 11 days.
On February 2, 1961 the hijackers were met by Brazilian officials off the coast of Recife. Galvao released the passengers in negotiation with Brazilian officials in exchange for political asylum.
Galvao later announced that his intentions were to sail to Angola, to set up a renegade Portuguese Government in opposition to Salazar. Galvao’s stories of these accounts were translated into English and into a book as Santa Maria: my crusade for Portugal (New York, 1961)."
Now some pictures I took this afternoon: