ST. CERGUE

bw2.jpg (457 Byte)

History

book1.gif (2430 Byte)

In February 1937 the steamer FELLDENE (yard number 1074) was launched at the British shipyard William Gray & Co. Ltd. of West Hartlepool for the Dene Shipping Management Co. of London and in March 1937 the ship was delivered to her owners (registered owner: Felldene Shipping Co. Ltd., London). The 7600 DWT ship was equipped with a triple expansion steam engine (289 NHP) and reached a service speed of about 9 knots. Her two boilers worked at a pressure of 200 psi (14 bar) und burnt about 32-34 tonnes of coal per day. For cargo handling she was provided with 12 derricks of 4 tonnes capacity each.

On 21.02.1939 the Swiss citizen Eric Demaurex and Georges Pasche bought this general cargo ship in Buenos Aires for their Panamanian company Demaurex & Pasche S.A. of Panama and named the ship ST. CERGUE. The purchase was done on behalf of the grain trading company André & Cie of Lausanne, Switzerland which also took over her management. With the change to the Panamanian flag the ship received the call sign HPKH.

In 1939 and early 1940 the vessel transported on behalf of the KTA, Kriegs Transport Amt (war transport office) in Bern grain from New York to the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. On 03.05.1940, the ST. CERGUE arrived in Rotterdam and two days later was surprised by the German invasion of the Benelux states and France. The port of Rotterdam was also attacked and incendiary bombs were dropped, some reportedly falling also onto the deck of the vessel and bouncing into the open holds, which fortunately were already empty. For this reason little damages were suffered by the ship. The Dutch navy vessel VAN GALEN was close to the freighter and fired with all guns onto the German planes and succeeded to hit some enemy planes, which dropped into the water of the harbour.

On 15.05.1940 the German occupation forces imposed on all ships in Dutch waters a prohibition to leave their ports. Later the ship was to be sold to the German ship owners Hendrik Fisser & van Doornum in Emden. However the sale failed because of the price being too high and because of the shortage of foreign currency on the German side. During the vessel's stay in Rotterdam several air attacks were carried out on the port of Rotterdam, the ST. CERGUE always escaped without or with only very little damages. The crew slowly diminished, the Italian and the Yugoslavian seamen going back home.

On 28.01.1941 the ship was sold with the permission of the German authorities to Suisse-Atlantique, Société de Navigation Maritime S.A. of Lausanne, but still remained under Panama flag. Afterwards, in Juli 1941, she was permitted to sail towards New York via the Kiel Canal and Norway. There were many stowaways on board, among them the "Soldaat van Oranje", Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. Near the Faroe Islands the British cruiser DEVONSHIRE stopped the ship and escorted her to Thørshavn, in the Faroe Islands, suspecting her to be a German cargo ship. The stowaways were brought on shore. At this occasion half of the crew deserted. But the ship could later carry on her voyage (see also the report of Jan Maan, the 3rd. officer during this voyage).

After her arrival in New York she was entered into the Swiss registry as number 5 on 10.07.1941 and she received the call sign HBDH. On 01.08.1941, the Swiss national day, the Swiss flag was raised in New York for the first time. The ST. CERGUE was the only modern ship of the entire Swiss fleet during the second World War.

From early 1940 until summer 1943 the famous Swiss master Fritz Gerber from Langnau i/E commanded the S/S ST. CERGUE. Also in 1940 a young Swiss radio officer, Adolf Tschui joins the vessel. From 1939 until her seizure in Rotterdam in May 1940, she transported grain on behalf of the KTA, Bern (war transport office) from New York to the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

The first voyage under Swiss flag was with a full load of grain for Switzerland from New York to Genoa, Italy, returning back to the USA with Swiss machines and other quality products. Note during the entire war the Swiss ships were working under orders from the KTA, Bern.

The ST. CERGUE was, what the sailors call a "lucky ship". During a crossing towards New York, on 15.04.1942, she saved ten survivors of the Norwegian motor tanker KOLL (10'044/30), who had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-571 on 06.04.1942. The exhausted survivors were landed in New York on 17.04.1942 and the injured hospitalised.

On 27.06.1942, the ST. CERGUE was steaming between New York and the Bermudas, bound for Genoa, when some weak distress calls were received. Ten hours later the ship arrived on the indicated position. Several crowed lifeboats from the Dutch combi-cargo liner JAGERSFONTEIN (10'083/34), were found drifting in the sea. Fortunately one of the life boats had a small emergency transmitter and could launch the alarm. The Dutch freighter had escaped the Japanese invasion in Indonesia across the Pacific to the USA. In Houston 100 US-soldiers joined to go to Europe. Now she was underway to a British port, when a German submarine stopped her, forced the crew and the passengers to abandon the ship and then sank her with torpedos. A total of 209 survivors, including some women and children were taken aboard the ST. CREGUE. When finishing the rescue operation the crew and passengers were frightened for a moment, when a German submarine surfaced and circled the ship, but finally signalled "bon voyage" and submerged again. The US-soldiers were transferred to an American war ship the next day and the remaining people were taken to Gibraltar where they disembarked on 09.07.1942 (the ship had always sufficient provisions after sailing from New York).

On 25.03.1943, sailing along the Brazilian coast, on a voyage from Buenos Aires to Genoa, the ST. CERGUE discovered a life boat with 22 crewmembers of the Swedish cargo ship INDUSTRIA (1688/40). They were taken aboard and a short call was made in Bahia to land the survivors.

A moment of panic and confusion occurred on the anchorage of Gibraltar on 05.08.1943. The ST. CERGUE was anchored and around her were the Norwegian tanker THORSHØVDI (10'000 tonnes), the British cargo ship STANRIDGE (6000 tonnes) and the American Liberty ship HARRISON GRAY OTIS (7000 tonnes). During the night Italian combat swimmers attached mines to these ships and at day break all three blew up. Obviously it must have been a very frightening bang, the life boats on the ST. CERGUE were lowered, although she did not suffer any damage.

End of September 1943 the ST. CERGE rescued the survivors of the burning Portugese steamer MELLO (4020/15) and towed her to the port of Pernambuco, Brazil (see our report below).

Sailing in the South Atlantic near the Canary Islands, the ST. CERGUE got a distress call from the Greek steamer NEREUS, chartered by the KTA, Bern. Unfortunately we do not have any date. The NEREUS had lost her screw and needed to be towed. The ST. CERGUE sailing in the vicinity, towed the NEREUS despite heavy sea conditions to Las Palmas, where they arrived two days later.

In December 1951 the ST-CERGUE was sold to Robert Bornhofen & Heinrich Bischoff from Hamburg and on 15.02.1952, the new owners took over the vessel and renamed her CLAUS BISCHOFF (call sign: DHRO, new tonnage: GRT: 4332, NRT: 2638, DWT: 7600). Her management was taken over by the Robert Bornhofen Schiffahrts- und Hafenbetriebs GmbH. On 17.03.1952, Robert Bornhofen became the sole owner. In February 1956 the owner company was renamed Partenreederei Claus Bischoff, Hamburg. In December 1957 the steamer was transferred to the Heinrich Bischoff Reederei of Hamburg.

Finally, on 13.03.1962 the ship was sold to Italy in order to be demolished. On 18.06.1962 the ship arrived at Monfalcone for scrapping.

SwissShips-HPS, MB, August 2013

  

Additional Informationen and Stories

 Escape voyage from Rotterdam to New York, July 1941

by Jan Maan

This report we have received from Adriaan Maan, who lives in Australia. His father, Jan Maan was the third officer on the ST. CERGUE in 1941. Jan Maan, was born in 1916 in Schiedam and after his escape from Holland, Jan Maan settled in Melbourne, Australia, but returned briefly to Holland after the war to obtain his master's licence. After leaving the St CERGUE in New York he joined the K.P.M. (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij) and served with that company until his retirement, sailing mainly around Asia, India, Japan, Africa and Australia. He died in 2004. Jan Maan wrote his memories during the 70ties or 80ties and we thank his son Adriaan for his kind permission to publish his report in our website. Note, Jan Maan always wrote the ship's name with a Q., that is ST. CERQUE. Below our shortened version:

During the German occupation many things were not allowed, there was a curfew at 22:00 hours and it was not allowed to listen to the British BBC radio news. However most Dutch would listen to the BBC program, the "Radio Oranje". In these news they were also talking about the Dutch ships, their crews and their exploits for the allied cause.

I was by no means a heroic type, but I seriously commenced thinking about escaping to England and join the Dutch merchant navy. Little did I realize, that my wish would be soon fulfilled, not by escaping, but simply by signing on on a ship, sailing to New York, and believe it or not, even with the permission of the Germans.

My father was employed in the harbour services in Schiedam and often delivered mail to foreign ships. Among those vessels was one Panamanian flag vessel the ST. CERGUE, belonging to a Swiss grain trading company. She was moored on the buoys in the middle of Wilhelminahaven in Schiedam. She was laid-up since 1938. Her crew, mainly Belgians and Italians were sent back home, except for the four Swiss nationals, the captain, the radio operator, the chief steward and the boatswain. Sometimes it happened, when I joined my father for a spin around the harbour, that I had to take some mail to the captain of this ship. From 1938 until 1941 I say this ship almost daily, getting rustier day by day *).

In the beginning of 1941 I heard the first rumours, that the ST. CERGUE is going to sail with the permission of the Germans. As I got my 3rd. mate's ticket at Christmas 1940, I asked the captain at first opportunity to sign me on as 3rd mate, but he refused and told me, that the Germans would not allow to sign on anyone from an occupied country and that he had to sign on a Swiss crew. This was a strong blow to me, but a few months later, there was still no sign of any Swiss crew.

Sometimes in June 1941, when riding my bike in Schiedam, I passed Erik Ruyer, the son of the harbour master. We did not stop to talk, but he shouted, that tomorrow a crew would be signed on for the ST. CERGUE in the offices of Van Millingen Steamship Company in Rotterdam. Those few words changed my entire future life completely.

The next morning I made sure not to miss the show and arrived early at 08:30 in the offices of Van Millingen. To my surprise, I found the whole corridor filled with men and smoke. How did so many people know about the ST. CERGUE? I looked around, but none of the men in this crowd, looked like an officer, which raised my hopes. After waiting for about one hour, the captain arrived, followed by a well dressed, young man of about my age. When they entered an office, I followed before they could close the door before my nose. When we got to the clerk, the captain turned round and asked the young man "third, where is the second and why is he not here?" The third mate replyed that the second officer had some trouble with his family and they would object to let him go. It was then, when the captain noticed me for the first time and then said "alright then, if he doesn't want to go, then you sign on as second officer and you Maan as third mate", I could not believe my ears. The clerk took my particulars and told me to go first to the German harbour master to obtain permission to leave the country and to sign on a Panamanian ship. He asked some tricky question, for example, if I ever jumped ship in America. Once satisfied, he gave me a paper with a German stamp and instructed me to go with this document to the Dutch shipping master and relinquish my passport, then with the receipt I could go to the Panama consul for signing on. To give up the passport meant to be stateless, but I could not care less. I got a Panama contract written in German language, I was ready to sail.

When I told people my tale about leaving this occupied country by a ship bound for America, nobody would believe me and probably thought, I was ready for the lunatic asylum. They all said, the Germans would never let us go and that probably the ship's crew was lured under false pretense to sail in the Baltic for their own benefit. Frankly also myself, I had some doubts about the whole thing, but I was prepared to take the risk.

As the K.P.M. (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij) paid all my expenses, plus a small salary during my studies, I was really in the service of this company. However, K.P.M. had no any chance to bring me onto one of their ships in Indonesia, therefore I felt no guilt to sign on the ST. CERGUE.

A few days before departure I was on board to do whatever had to be done and to get acquainted with the ship. During these days I never saw much of the crew, except for the officers and engineers. With my last money I bought a sextant, which, despite all the ups and downs in my career, is still in my possession and by now has become almost a museum piece.

In the morning of sailing day, my father brought me to the ship in his small harbour service boat. During this short crossing, we both felt the pang of parting for a long time, if not forever. My father was not giving in to emotions very easily. His last words, before parting "Good bye Jan, it falls me hard to see you go".

On the sailing day shore leave was ended at 08:00 hours, all officers were on board as ordered, but none of the ratings, both deck and engine, were on board. By about 11:00 hours 3 cars with German naval officers arrived and were welcomed by the master at the gangway. He told them, the crew was still on shore and "parked" the officers in the saloon, keeping them happy with some spirits. By 12:30 still no sign of the crew and the patience of the officers went down proportional to the level of the alcohol in the bottles. Also the captain got a bit impatient and said "Mr. Maan go on shore and fetch the crew". I thought the old man must be mad, where in heaven's name would I have to pick up these 17 men, I never have seen before? Before I could say anything, the captain continued "Take the cars of the Germans and tell the drivers to take you to the pub "The Golden Crown", there you will find the whole lot of them, drinking themselves into a stupor".

I was born in Schiedam, but I didn't know this pub. Still today, at the moment of writing this story (40 years later) I wonder, how this Swiss captain knew exactly, where his crew was at this particular moment. With the permission of the German officers we drove to the pub in the hearth of Schiedam. When I opened the door, I instantly felt, this was not going to be easy. A thick cloud of smoke rolled out of the door and through the dense, blue haze I saw the pub filled with men and women, all as drunk as a lord. The noise was deafening and it was not immediately clear to me, how to get this drunken lot outside and on board. In the back, through the mist I saw a tall fellow, who appeared to be more or less sober. I approached him and explained him that the Germans were waiting on board for the crew and that we should not miss this great chance to get out of this occupied country. He was sensible enough and in no time the men where out of the pub and in the street. Something I did not count for, were the women, they would not let their men go, they simply refused to go, if they were not together. Myself and the tall guy, we could not do anything else, then order four taxis. The trip back to the harbour was a hilarious one, seven car full of drunks, men and women, all singing and shouting on top of their voices. The German drivers in the three front cars must have enjoyed this little interlude, they stopped in front of the last pub on the way to the harbour. The men started to scramble into the pub, but we could get this thirsty lot back into the cars.

Once this procession arrived alongside the vessel, we were not allowed to board, until the German search party had finished its job. Nothing of any suspicious nature was found, the search party left the ship satisfied. A sentry was posted at the gangway. The only ones hanging around the gangway were the women, shedding crocodile tears by the buckets. It was now 16:00 hours and the captain told us, that the departure was now postponed until the next morning at 04:00 hours. When the ladies heard this message, some of the women went to the German guard and asked him permission to stay until the next morning. The guard, a seaman himself, must have understood the feelings and agreed to their request. The weeping females came on board, allowing their men to have their last fling before the serious business of sailing the high seas in war time commenced.

Next morning at four o'clock, it was the first of July, the vessel was ready to sail. The tugboats towed us out of the Wilhelminahaven into the middle of the river Maas, where we took position in a convoy. Fifteen ships, including us slowly sailed down the river, escorted by six German destroyers. We all have heard stories about German convoys along the Dutch coast almost getting annihilated by the RAF (Royal Air Force). We didn't know, how much was true, but we were all prepared for the worst. At 08:00 hours, we had passed the breakwater of the Hook van Holland, we heard a terrific explosion, which sent shudders through the ship. The chief officer and myself we just came off watch, when we ran out of our cabins on deck to see a huge column of water and mud collapsing back into the sea. The captain and the second officer on the bridge told us, that a destroyer discovered a floating mine and blew it up with a volley of machine gun fire. As we were not used to naval warfare, this was already enough to shatter the nerves of all of us.

As soon we had cleared the breakwaters the convoy was altered from a single line to three lines of five ships each. It was only one day sailing to the entrance of the Kiel Canal, but it was also a beautiful summer day, a perfect day for the RAF or the Royal Navy to blast us all into heaven. The destroyers escorted us all day and air cover above us was also visible. We plodded along the Dutch coast with about 9 knots without any incident. Not many seamen can say, that they sailed in enemy convoys, as well as in allied convoys. In any case, I think we never sailed as well protected in allied convoys as with the German Navy during this day.

The next day we entered the Kiel Canal and the canal pilot had told us to wait for orders from the German High Command in Kiel. In the afternoon we dropped anchor in the Bay of Kiel and immediately an armed guard of soldiers was placed on board. We were waiting at the anchorage without any word received from shore and as time passed our doubts to ever see New York or Buenos Aires increased. To us, it now looked like we were going to sail for the Germans in the Baltic Sea. Nothing we could do about, we took the risk and we only could hope for the best.

On Saturday 05.07.1941 a military launch came alongside in the morning to pick up our captain and bring him on shore to receive the new orders. Everybody now was anxious about what new orders the captain would receive. A few hours later he came back with the only news, that we had to sail by our own to Arendal in Norway and wait for further orders. It was not good news for us, as Norway was just another country occupied by the Germans. On Sunday morning we commenced our trip to Arendal along the Danish and Swedish coastlines. Again the weather was perfect and we could see the Swedes enjoying themselves on the beach and not to be worried about being trampled under the German heels.

On Monday late afternoon we arrived on the anchorage of Arendal and dropped anchor. Although an occupied country, the scenery looked more tranquil and peaceful here in southern Norway. After the ship was anchored, rowing boats commenced to head for our ship, when they approached, everybody now was hanging over the rails. To our big surprise, the boats were rowed not by men, but by tall and fair haired Norwegian maidens. When they came within earshot of the crew, they started to babble away in their lingo, mixed with a word in English here and there. When we got the gist of their speech, we understood, they wanted to barter fish against cigarettes and tobacco, as much as we wanted. Strange, in Holland cigarettes and tobacco were a very scarce commodity, but now there were plenty for plenty of fish. It did not take long to find out, that these ladies did not only trade in fish but other commodities as well. This suited the seamen very well, as apparently the Germans forgot to place a military guard on board, and one after the other disappeared with a girl, not to return until next morning at 07:00 o'clock. The captain was very pleased to see everybody back in time and did not make any remarks to the crew about their escapades on shore.

We sailed same morning from Arendal protected by one destroyer. A German naval officer was placed on board to maintain communication between us and the war ship. We still had no idea, what the Germans had in mind for the ST. CERGUE, only thing we knew, that we were bound for Bergen, where we arrived on Wednesday, that must have been on or about 12.07.1941**). Nothing happened in Bergen, we stayed at anchor for one night and then continued our journey up the Norwegian coast. Shortly after midday near Trondheim ***) we received orders to proceed now on our own towards our destination New York and without any further fuss the naval officer was taken off the ship.

Upon hearing this tremendous, good news, the captain ordered the whole crew midships. When all were assembled, the captain appeared in our midst with four bottles of Dutch gin under his arms, followed by two stewards with 27 glasses. "Men" the captain said "this is something to celebrate, from now on we are on our own, no Germans for us anymore to breath down our necks. No more sailing with the whole ship all blacked out. From now, navigation lights on and big spotlights over both sides midships to show the ship's name and the Panamanian flag". The bottles of gin didn't last long and among many cheers and good wishes for a safe journey for the captain and for all of us, the bow of the ship was turned into the direction of New York.

Our first course headed towards the passage between the Shetland and the Faroe Islands. As it was in the height of the northern summer on a latitude of about 63° north, we hardly had any darkness during the night, in fact we only had about two hours of twilight around midnight. The weather was fine and the North Atlantic was calm like a pond in a park.

About two days after Trondheim on Monday ****) just before handing-over the watch at noon the captain and myself we spotted a one-masted ship on the horizon to the north. First we believed it was a sailing ship, but it moved too fast. When coming closer, it dawned on us, it was a man-of-war and finally it was the British cruiser DEVONSHIRE. With morse signals, given with an Aldis-lamp we were instructed to stop the ship. The stories about German raiders, disguised as innocent looking cargo ships were all present and the cruiser took no chances. All her guns, big and small, were pointed in our direction. The cruiser lowered a boat to send a boarding party of about 40 marines across to us. When coming alongside, our captain was shouting to a British officer, what this was all about and asked him, if he didn't know, that we were neutral and sailing on behalf of Switzerland with the permission of both, the germans and the British. The British officer was very sorry, but insisted, his orders were to come on board. Once the last man had climbed on board, the boat returned immediately to the cruiser.

The orders of the British officer were to sail to the Faroe Islands for further investigations. Before the cruiser went out of our sight, she signalled, that a German submarine was lurking around our ship, which put the whole crew and the marines on a hell of an alert, but shortly, signalled again, that it was a false alarm, caused by a big whale.

The next day we anchored on the road of one of the Islands of the Faroe Group. Four naval officers boarded and began to interrogate the crew in the saloon, one by one. They asked, who wanted to join the Dutch forces in the United Kingdom. Myself I tought, except for not being occupied, the situation in England must be about the same misery as in Holland, but in USA there is still peace and plenty of food. Of course I could not tell them this, so I told them, I wish to assist the master to bring the ship to New York, which they accepted and did not press me any further.

Finally we left the Faroe Islands and it took us another ten days to reach New York. We sailed now fully illuminated, as opposed to the allied ships, which were completely blacked out. Several SOS from torpedoed ships were received during this passage, but always too far away to render any assistance. Also the weather was not so favourable as at the beginning of our voyage, we had a pleasant passage to New York. Off New Foundland we were stopped by an American war ship, but after giving the ship's name and destination, they let us proceed on our way.

We reached New York on the last day of July. It was a perfect summer afternoon, when we sailed past the statue of Liberty into the land of the free, which at this moment, perhaps had more meaning to us, then to the whole population of the United States.

Once the ship was alongside, everybody was going on shore. In a pub, frequented by Dutch seamen, we heard, that none of these sailors very happy to sail in British convoys. It was alleged, that the British Admiralty had a cunning way to place the British ships in the centre and put Dutch and other flag vessels on the outside, using the foreign ships as a buffer to protect the own ships.

A few days later, I visited the office of the K.P.M. and Mr. Borger the local representative promised me to arrange the transfer to one of the company ships. I went back to the ST. CERGUE to sign off. The captain was in his quarter and I told him, I wish to join my company. He said "No problem, but why you do not stay with me? The second mate has left and you can take his place and be paid 240.- Dollars American". This was a wage unheard of, but what would happen to my future, if I did not join a Dutch company to make a career for myself? A future on the ST. CERGUE was too uncertain to even contemplate staying on. So I took all my money and said farewell to Capt. Gerber, one of the finest men, I have sailed with. I really felt sorry I had to leave vessel, as for the short time I served on her, was very pleasant and I realized, that it might be a long time to sail again with such a Gentleman. This was the last, I have seen of the ST. CERGUE and of her captain.

Our remarks:

*) Unless our sources are gravely wrong, here Jan Maan's memory failed. The ST. CERGUE arrived in Rotterdam on 03.05.1940 shortly before the German occupation. She stayed a bit more then one year in Rotterdam.

**) As they sailed from Arendal in the morning of the 08.07.1941 and to Bergen it is 262 nm, which is 29 hours at 9 knots. Therefore they must have arrived on Wednesday, but it was 09.07.1941.

***) This must have been on the 11.07.1941

****) This must have been the 14.07.1941

It is strange, Jan Maan didn't mention any stowaways on the vessel, as a third mate he must have been aware of their existence. In any case, his story differs in various points from our sources (see main story

SwissShips, HPS, Jan Maan, August 2013

 

 The rescue of the MELLO, September, 1943

End of September 1943 the old, Portugese steamer MELLO (4020/15) was underway with a cargo of 5000 tonnes of sodium nitrate from Chile to Portugal. On 29.09.1943 at about 20:00 hours and about 90 miles north-north-east of the small Brazilian Island Fernando do Noronha she caught fire and was gravely damaged. The radio officer transmitted an SOS, which was received on the ST. CERGUE just before the sparky went off his watch. The indicated position of the MELLO was about 12 hours steaming time away. The sea was calm and the weather fine. Captain Gerber had signed off for his vacation and the new master was Captain De Brito, a Portugese, originating from the Cabo Verde Islands.

The forward cargo holds went on fire, probably by gas, igniting spontaneously. Burning gas entered also the engine room and had to be evacuated. The crew commenced to abandon the ship. The crew manged to lower the first life boat with 12 people. They got off the falls well enough, but as the ship was still advancing, the boat was caught in the turning propeller and was smashed including its unfortunate occupants. The remaining crew refused to lower the other two life boats, as long the engine was still running. Therefore the 3rd. engineer Antonio Pereira volunteered to go down below and stop the engine. He succeed, but he suffered serious burns. Now the crew lowered the other two life boats and got off the burning ship. The next morning after a few hours of searching, the ST. CERGUE found the first life boat and saved 18 men. According to these men, the other boat with the captain was nearer to the MELLO, further to the east. In the afternoon, guided by a column of smoke, they found the second life boat with 11 men, some of them severely burnt. One man already died in the life boat.

The ST. CERGUE remained all day and the next days near the still burning MELLO, if was hoped that the fire finally would stop by itself. During this drifting time the seamen caught about 20 sharks, pulled them on deck and killed them with heavy iron bars. Their bellies were cut open and this is probably sailor's yarn, they found some grisly remains of some of their comrades smashed in the turning ship's propeller.

On 02.10.1943 finally a boarding party of 6 men reached the MELLO and fastened a line to the stern of the vessel. Three men remained on board the MELLO and tow began, but the next day the line broke. Despite the dangers of explosions, the men went to the forecastle and a steel wire could be attached to the port anchor chain, which was then lowered to give some elasticity. On 07.10.1943 the tow reached Natal, but was refused to enter the harbour. The Master decided to go further south to Recife (Pernambuco). On 09.10.1943 the ships entered the port and the 7 blessed could be given into hospital care.

As the good part of the cargo and the ship could be saved, the master, crew and the ship owner could cash a substantial salvage premium. The S/S MELLO was repaired and remained in service until the sixties.

SwissShips, HPS, August 2013

Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema

Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema was a Dutch writer, RAF-pilot and a member of the Dutch resistance. He was born in Surabaya, Java in 1917 and he died in 2007.

At the outbreak of world war II he was a law student at the university of Leiden. After the occupation of the Netherlands he joined the Dutch resistance. He escaped from Holland on board the ST. CERGUE to the Faroe Islands, then continued to the United Kingdom, where he became a fighter pilot in the RAF and also continued to work for the Dutch resistance unit in London. Apparently they were a group of 4 people on board, Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, Bram van der Stok, a famous Dutch fighter pilot (1915 - 1993) and two others.

In 1970 he published a book, called the "Soldaat van Oranje", describing his adventures during the war, including his escape on the ST. CERGUE (note he spelled the ship's name ST. CERQUE). Seven years later, the story was used for a movie of the same name "Soldaat van Oranje".

SwissShips, HPS, August 2013

Movie "Soldaat van Oranje", 1977

In 1977 a movie was made in the Netherlands, directed by Paul Verhoeven starring Rutger Hauer as Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. This movie received much public attention in Holland, but was also widely recognised abroad.

To play the part for the ST. CERGUE an old French coastal tanker, the ESSO PORT JEROME was used. She was built in 1947 in St. Nazaire, France and had a deadweight of 2'650 tonnes.

 Photoherkunft / Photosource: Soldaat Van Oranje  

 Photoherkunft / Photosource: Unbekannt / unknown SwissShips Archiv

After the movie was completed, the tanker was scrapped in 1979 in Hendrik Ido Ambacht, a small town about 20 km upriver from Rotterdam. The Bridge of the tanker was taken off and was displayed for about 20 years on the Stationsplein, the square in front of the Rotterdam main station (Rotterdam Centraal).

The Bridge at Rotterdam Centraal

 Photoherkunft / Photosource: Unbekannt / unknown SwissShips Archiv

In 2000 the bridge again was moved to the Boompjes, a quai along the river in the heart of Rotterdam and presently serves as a restaurant and bar for the construction society DRVM, De Rotterdamsche Vastgoed Maatschappij www.drvm.nl.  

 Photoherkunft / Photosource: Unbekannt / unknown SwissShips Archiv

SwissShips-HPS, August 2013