Friday, 8 March 2013

Tragedy in the Straits of Gibraltar

Two fishing boats set out for Canaries and never return · British ship involved
ALGECIRAS A book presentation is taking place this evening at the Millán Picazo Auditorium in Algeciras. José Regueira, Jimena's retired pharmacist and Official Chronicler of the village (and father to the two current pharmacists, Victor and Hector) left Galicia fifty years ago, but never lost touch with his native A Coruña, and for years wrote articles for La Voz de Galicia, connecting that northwestern region with Cádiz. Much of what he wrote was about the sea, a common thread to both communities. One of his articles, a real sea story of the Spanish Civil War, caught the attention of a reader in the northern region. It was about two fishing boats, manned by 24 Galicians, that left Algeciras, in the midst of the war, headed for a port on the Saharan side of the Canary Islands. They never returned. That reader happened to be the grandson of Enrique Pereira, the skipper of the San Fausto, one of the boats. There's a lot more to this Campo de Gibraltar story that was also researched by Luis Romero and José Manuel Algarbani.>>>
An initial article was published in La Voz de Galicia about the tragic mystery. A little time later, Regueira received an emotional communication from Gaspar Santos, the grandson of Enrique Pereira. He filled in many details of the story and started Regueira on a search for the whole truth.

The pharmacist and the grandson covered many hundreds of kilometers all over Spain, visiting relatives of the crews, details about the boats and recording anecdotes about it all. The research went on for a number of years but the puzzle came together slowly, blowing away the mysteries of time and history.

The result was originally presented at the 9th annual edition of the History and Archaeology Workshops organized by the Institute of Campo de Gibraltar Studies (sadly not being held this year for lack of funding) under the title of The Maritime Relationship Between Galicia and the Straits: the tragedy of the San Fausto and the Con.

A book came out of that historical article: Soltando Amarras (Casting Off), by Pedro Castilla Madriñán.  The subject of today's presentation. 

We are told that negotiations are afoot aimed at making a film of the story.

But what is the story?

On their journey back from the Canaries, on the African coast at Cape Cantin, they came across a destroyer, the José Luis Díez, that had remained loyal to the Republicans in the war. Following instructions from the elected government, she was heading from Le Havre to Cartagena in Spain.

To get there, she had to do the almost impossible: come through the Straits and sail up the Spanish coast undetected by the Spanish fleet thjatb had defected to the Nationalist side. She was disguised as a British ship.

She was bunkering from a mother ship when she came across the fishing boats. The fishermen were hoisted on board and put up in the stokers' quarters, deep inside. The catch was confiscated and the boats sunk to avoid the risk it would mean if the real nature of the Republican vessel was revealed to the other side on the fishermens' return.

But the fishermen were not prisoners; they were promised release at the first port the José Luis Díez reached.

That never happened.

The destroyer was discovered by the Nationalists, and fired on heavily, as she passed Europa Point, and engaged in a battle with another ship, the Canarias, resulting in a large hole exactly where the fishermen were being held. They were never seen again.

Regueira tells us that the story produces strong emotions wherever it has been told, not least from the San Fausto skipper's granddaughter, Ángeles Pereira, aged 76, who will be present this evening, and who will get to know her native town, Algeciras, which she left as a very small girl.

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