Some wrecks, even years after their sinking, hold onto the memory of the dramatic events that lead to their demise. Exploded, burned, bombed... you can see how the ship suffered before it sank. That’s not the case with the Superior Producer, Curaçao’s most famous wreck. It lies on the bottom of the sea, tranquil and intact, like nothing bad ever happened to it—much to the enjoyment of many Curaçao divers. Instead of a horrible tale of woe, the Superior Producer has a funny story. In fact, many people were delighted when this ship sunk.
The little 3000-ton freighter, flying under a Panama flag, had an easy life. The Superior Producer was not an intrepid military frigate or a glamorous sailing vessel. It traveled from island to island around the Southern Caribbean, picking up and dropping cargo as it went. It was a boat with a simple purpose and not much history.
In September 1977, the Superior Producer arrived in the port of Willemstad to pick up a new cargo. This time, the shipwright was a group of Hindu merchants, looking to make a quick buck. They loaded all they could onto the small freighter—all that they could sell at a hefty profit for Christmas on the Venezuelan Island of Margarita. They filled the boat with t-shirts, trousers, towels, alcohol and electronic goods. Despite the serious safety warnings of the captain, the merchants stuffed the hulls to the brim, way beyond the capacity of the vessel. With all on board, the Superior Producer left the harbor, entering the Willemstad channel and passing the bridge. With the wind on its side, the ship turned eastward on its bearing towards Margarita.
Back on the Willemstad pier the shipwrights stared at their ship with great anticipation. Full of hope, they could see a very profitable future within their reach. They blessed the ship with incense.
But suddenly, the little freighter began to roll. From side to side it rocked, taking on water through its portholes. The poorly secured cargo began to move, making the vessel rock more. A passing boat tried to lend a helping hand, towing the Superior Producer back towards the harbor. But the harbormaster, afraid of the half-sunken freighter, ordered a halt to this heroic mission. The ship started to sink.
The crew and the captain jumped into the sea and swam back to the beach, abandoning the sinking vessel. While large eyes looked on from the shore, the Christmas freighter and all the hopes of riches disappeared under the surface of the sea. There was a lot of crying, hollering and lamenting on the pier.
But one person’s suffering is quite often another person’s joy, and the news of the wreckage echoed through the island of Curaçao. From all parts, people rushed to the scene to help with the "rescue." Not a rescue in the traditional sense, they came to take what they could get. The lucky guys had scuba gear—others just jumped into the water and grabbed anything that they could find floating.
One hundred feet under the surface, divers opened cargo hatches and took out crates of whisky and rum. There was a real craziness in the air, as the rivalry between divers was fierce. For a crate of whisky, masks were flipped off faces and regulators ripped out of mouths. On the beach, there were fights between "rescue" divers and land crew. While divers struggled to get their flippers off, goods were ripped out of their hands. The merchants were more than prepared to fight to get their goods back. The yelling was ear-piercing. Fistfights broke out. All the noise and commotion attracted the police, who confiscated a bottle or two of whisky in passing.
But that wasn’t enough to discourage the divers. More and more came—by day and by night. The taste of an easy buck made new divers out of many. Anyone who had a mask and a pair of fins wanted a piece of the action. The dive shops were shopped dry and the few compressors on the island pumped day and night. The only recompression chamber on the island was not enough to care for all the hurried divers.
In just a few days, the wreck was absolutely empty and all the cargo gone, only to reappear some days later on the market— washed, dried and at a discount price.
Since those crazy days, the wreck has had a peaceful retreat. Placed squarely on its keel, on a sandy coral bottom in 100 feet of water, just 500 feet from the shoreline, the Superior Producer is a pleasure for diver operators and divers alike.
There’s nothing more to grab on the wreck—even the portholes have been taken. Over the years, the powerful current has brushed the paint off the hull, and scarlet coral jewels now cover the freighter. The ship has been virtually transformed into a coral garden. Barracudas, jacks and snappers swim quietly in the empty hull where the legendary fights for t-shirts took place. Sometimes, the majestic silhouette of a hammerhead cuts across the mast, sending shivers up your spine. Solidly anchored on the bottom, the Superior Producer has had a happy ending, far away from the lust and greed of humans and the tragedies of the sea.
A new episode to this story potentially threatens the freighter’s peaceful rest. In 1999 the Superior Producer’s mast—rising to within 15 feet of the surface—was cut off by local harbor authorities who feared that it posed a threat to passing traffic. And in 2001, there was talk about a new pier to be built on the Superior Producer’s resting place. Authorities say that the little Curaçao wreck will not be destroyed, but who can say what might happen? Maybe now is the best time to get a good look at this marvelous little wreck.