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MaSS

stepping stones of maritime history

History

The SS Pedernales was a shallow bottomed British oil tanker that was considered as one of the early lake tankers that brought crude oil to the Lago Oil Refinery situated at San Nicolaas from Maracaibo [1]. The SS Pedernales was built in 1938, in Italy. However, it sailed mainly under the British Flag, and provided oil to the British during WWII [2]. World War II was beneficial for Aruba as the war had dissipated the oil industry in Europe. The SS Pedernales therefore sailed to Aruba and was providing the British with oil to fuel their aircraft during WWII to help them during the battle over Britain [2]. Aruba became a main supplier for fuel and was therefore the main target for the Germans [5].

On February 16th 1942, the German marine commenced Operation Neuland which led to the attack of three ships in Aruban waters by a U-156. The U-Boat entered Aruba waters a few days prior from the western side and started a military observation of targets within the region. The U-Boat located the oil refinery and multiple oil tankers, and spent the next 2 days coming up with a plan of attack. In the late evening of February 15th 1942, the U-156 approached the Lago Oil Refinery and the captain (Master Herbert McCall) chose 2 oil tankers to attack, namely the SS Pedernales and the SS Oranjestad. The SS Pedernales would be the first victim of the three attacks on oil tankers that occured on February 16th 1942 [5].

The Pedernales (Master Herbert McCall) was hit amidships by one G7a torpedo and burned fiercely all night, but did not sink. The torpedo caused significant damage to the ship as it was filled with crude oil at the time, and the vessel caught fire instantly. However, the ship remained afloat and drifted from Sero Colorado to Palm Beach where large sections that were charred, twisted, and crumpled, broke off and sank. Large sections of the ship are now present strewn across coral reefs, namely cabins, washbasins, and pipelines systems [5]. The next day tug boats pushed her ashore near Sabaneta and she was later taken to the Lago Dry Dock in San Nicholas, where the midship section was removed, the bow and part welded together and a temporary wheel house fitted. The tanker went to Baltimore under her own power and returned to service after being rebuild. The crew of the SS Pedernales managed to leave the ship during the attack. However the attack on the SS Pedernales did result in the death of 8 people, while 18 of the crew survived [3] [4] [5].

The shipwreck remnants present at Palm Beach were then used by the US army Air Force for bombing practice. Multiple AN-MK43 aerial dummy bombs were found throughout the years, which were used by the US military since 1942.

Description

Built: Cantiere Riuniti dell’ Adriatico (CRDA), Monfalco
Engine by: North Eastern Marine Engineers Lrd., Sunderland
Engine: 2 x 3 cylinder triple expansion steam engines, dual 
shaft, 2 screws, 2 single boilers, 6 corrugated 
furnaces, machinery aft, cruiser stern
Owner: Lago Shipping Co Ltd (Esso), London

Length: 108.2 meters
Width: 18.4 meters
Height: 5.1 meters

MasterHerbert McCall
People on board26
Power318 hp
Length355 feet (108.2 m)
Width60.4 feet (18.4 m)
Tonnage4317 ton

Status

The SS Pedernales now resides at a maximum depth of 8 - 9 meters, with an average visibility of 28 - 30 meters, southwest of the Antilla shipwreck. The scattered remnants of the SS Pedernales has now become an artificial reef that houses an abundance of marine life, namely large schools of grunts, silversides, snappers, trumpetfish, angelfish, grouper, squirrelgish, stingrays, turtles, pufferfish, scorpionfish, lobsters, nurse sharks, eagle rays, and goatfish. In addition, occasional moray eels and octupus also visit this site [1].

The remnants of the shipwreck are being subjected to mechanical, biological, and chemical threats. The SS Pedernales is situated on the northwest side of the island, which is susceptible to hurricane and tropical storms which can cause the displacement of ship remains, in turn removing them from their original archaeological and environmental context. In addition, the rough or extreme tidal movements can weaken the coral reefs present on the ship remains. The ship remnants are made out of metal which undergo a continuous metal erosion when in contact with sea water. Fishing activities are destructive and causing parts of the shipwreck to break off. Lastly, the SS Pedernales is a popular dive site, in turn making it susceptible to looting and treasure hunting [2].

[1]. Wrecksite: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?224729
[2]. Pure Diving Aruba: https://www.puredivingaruba.com/diving-aruba/wrecks/pedernales/
[3]. Alofs, L., Merkies, L. (1990). Ken ta Arubiano. Sociale Integratie en Natievorming op Aruba. Antillen Working Papers 15. 
[4]. Oorlogs Bronnen, thema: Operation Paukenschlag: https://www.oorlogOorlogs Bronnen, thema: Operation Paukenschlagsbronnen.nl/thema/Operatie%20Paukenschlag.
[5]. The History of Aruba Shipwrecks 1939 – 2000: Antilla to Star Gerren: https://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/pedernales-the-phoenix-of-aruba/.

References

Down on 13 April

New in MaSS

Wrecks of Flevoland

Burgzand Noord

13 Provinces