The “Cunene” found the survivors from the Norwegian “Svenør”

The Cunene

The Cunene
(Picture: Navios e Navegadores)


Captain: António Pinto e Neto
Type: Vapor de Carga
Tonnage: 5875 TB
Owner: Sociedade Geral 

Homeport: Lisboa
Built: Flensburger Schiffsbau, Flensburg, Alemanha (1911)

On the dawn of March 27, 1942, the Cunene was sailing between Lisbon, Portugal, and Philadelphia, USA, when the crew saw several light flashes in the distance. After changing course, they found an extensive oil slick and also a u-boat that emerged 30 meters to the port side with the captain asking first if there was mail on board and, when the answer was negative, telling them that to the Southwest they could find two or three lifeboats with castaways.

A sailor climbed to the mainmast of the Cunene and spotted a small sail from a lifeboat with 15 shipwrecked from the Norwegian oil tanker Svenør. Despite none of the rescued knew of another lifeboat, the search continued and shortly after, another one was spotted with 14 people on, including the boatswain who assured that it was not worth continuing the search as the rest of the men had been charred, including the captain. Upon arrival in Philadelphia they were handed over to the Norwegian consul.

Following this rescue the Cunene was put under close surveillance by the American authorities. In a report delivered by Captain Arruda in Lisbon, it is explained that the contact with the submarine was viewed with suspicion by the local authorities, and if no one denied the encounter at sea, they also did not understand how they could have avoided it. 

The Americans claimed that the Portuguese captain was a suspect because he had given evasive answers during the preliminary investigation, presenting a different version from the crew. US naval officers, accompanied by translators, prolonged the interrogations for three days and Arruda was questioned repeatedly.

A short time before, German spies left by uboat on the American coast had been arrested and lots of panic and suspicion took over the American authorities.

The Americans forbade the Portuguese to smoke on deck, both day and night; cut in half the requisition of fresh fish, “afraid” that it could be delivered to an enemy submarine; required extra bureaucracy to authorize departure. In Norfolk, where they went after Philadelphia, they had armed guards on board throughout their stay. No one could leave except for the captain, who was always searched on leaving and entering. Before sailing they were subjected to further interrogation and also searches to their accommodations.

The ship left Norfolk on April 10, 1942 and, interestingly, two days later found more twelve survivors from another Norwegian oil tanker, the Koll.

Svenør had departed Curaçao on March 17, 1942 with 11,440 tons of fuel oil, and was supposed to join a convoy in Halifax, Canada, but in the early afternoon of the 27th, she was hit by two torpedoes fired by U-105. . The survivors escaped in two lifeboats. The submarine, already on the surface, fired another torpedo, but to sink Svenør he had to make half a hundred shots with the cannon. Eight men died and 29 survived. The Cunene was sighted shortly afterwards.

C. G.


Captain: Hans N. Thormodsen
Type: Motor tanker
Tonnage: 7616 TB
Owner: S. Ugelstad, Oslo

Homeport: Oslo
Built: Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Walker-on-Tyne, UK (1931)


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