At sea: 11 February 1961

 U.S.S. GEARING (DD-710)
c/o Fleet Post Office 
New York, New York

Dear Friends of the GEARING:

This is "Familygram” number five of our South Atlantic AMITY Cruise to South America and Africa.

The last familygram was mailed from Abidjan, Ivory Coast. As you will remember GEARING was scheduled to be in Cotonou, Dahomey from 26 to 28 January. Our ever flexible schedu1e and the fact that we did not receive diplomatic clearance in time to enter Cotonou necessitated a change, so Abidjan was visited once again on the evening of January 20. Our sister ship, the VOGELSANG (DD-862), had preceded us by arriving early on the morning of the 20th. The approach to Abidjan was unique since this was the first time this cruise we had entered a port after sunset. No difficulties were encountered and the ship was moored about 10 PM. On January 20, GEARING and VOLGELSANG were joined by the U. S. Navy tanker NESPELIN.

The stay in Abidjan was pleasant although. The temperature, as usual, was quite high. Since this was the second ship in Abidjan, the visiting aboard ship was at a minimum. The lack of visitors provided a welcome break for the crew and permitted us to hold several ship’s parties on a nearby beach. The parties were well attended by the crew and featured sun, beer, soft drinks, various athletic activities and hamburgers. Unfortunately, swimming was not permitted at this beach due to the dangerous surf, but you will recall front an earlier “Familygram’ that swimming (at the outdoor pool) is one of the highlights of Abidjan. This fact continued to be true as we populated the beautiful, big Aquarium swimming pool at every opportunity.

On the morning of the 25th we learned about the mutiny which had taken place aboard the large Portuguese passenger liner SANTA MARIA. GEARING was ordered to get underway and possibly intercept the SANTA MARIA in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands.  After lunch GEARING was underway and soon thereafter making high speed in calm seas. About 9 PM on 26 January we arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone to refuel. Our intentions were to top-off our fuel immediately upon arrival and depart about midnight when fueling was completed. However, we had to wait until the next morning and were refueled and underway once more at 11 AM on the 27th.

This time our intentions were to rendezvous with the USS VOGELSANG and USS NESPELAN just south of the equator and along the projected track of the SANTA MARIA, which was proceeding to Angola. Subsequent messages from CINCLANFLT based on SANTA MARIA’s movements changed these plans and GEARING was ordered to proceed to a Recife, Brazil where we were to embark Rear Admiral Allen Smith Jr., (Commander Caribbean Sea Frontier) and then proceed to a point 50 miles east of Recife, where GEARING would rendezvous with the SANTA MARIA.

Arriving in Recife at 4:30 PM on 30 January, we refueled and embarked Admiral smith, LCDR Huffman (his aide) and CDR Rainey (Public Information Specialist), and Mr. Harry Quinn (Political Advisor from the American Embassy in Rio, de Janeiro, Brazil). We had averaged 4.6 knots since leaving Abijan on 25 January 1961. GEARING also played host to 66 correspondents and photographers from all corners of the world. They were warned that only the most austere conditions would be encountered board the GEARING due to our lack of extra bunks, but these hardy individuals had come a long way to get close to the SANTA MARIA and they were not to be denied. The correspondents included representatives from NBC, ABC, LIFE, N.Y. TIMES, AP, UPI, CBS, LONDON DAILY NEWS, PARIS MATCH and many others.

We completed refueling early in the morning and at 4 AM were underway once again with intentions to sight SANTA MARIA at first light. Shortly after dawn GEARING sighted the pirate ship and was the first Naval ship on the scene with SANTA MARIA after the pirated took over. It was heartening to see her decks jammed with the cheering and exuberant passengers. There was little doubt that they were relieved and grateful for the GEARING’s appearance and presence. Shortly after our arrival and into the next day other American ships also arrived. The included the destroyers VOGELSAND, ROBET E. WILSON and DAMATO; the oilers NESPELIN and CANISTRO and the nuclear submarine SEAWOLF ….. but GEARING was first.

Admiral Smith, the official representative of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Government, boarded the SANTA MARIA at about l0 AM on 31 January 1961 with his party and went into conference with Captain Galvao, the pirate leader. Captain Galvao assured Admiral Smith of his intentions to leave the passengers un­harmed. We must keep in mind the fact that the political situation in Brazil was an influential factor in determining the eventual outcome of this incident as the new president of Brazil, Janio Quadros, assumed office at noon on 31 January 1961.

After the conference and RADM Smith’s return, GEARING returned to Recife and disembarked the correspondents. Immediately upon their departure, GEARING returned to sea and remained within visual range of SANTA MARIA during the night. At about noon on the 1st of February, the SANTA MARIA proceeded into anchor about 5600 yards from Recife. This placed the SANTA MARIA in Brazil­ian territorial waters and from this point all negotiations were necessarily handled by Brazil. GEARING of course followed SANTA MARIA and anchored with­in 1000 yards. The part played by GEARING and the U.S. Navy cannot be re­legated to a minor position in this episode. Had it not been for the presen­ce of the Navy ships and aircraft, the outcome of his incident could have been far different.

As you have read in the newspapers and magazines, seen on TV and heard on the radio, the SANTA MARIA entered the inner harbor of Recife and disembarked the passengers and crew on 2 February. Later that evening Brazilian Marines occupied SANTA MARIA and at 7PM on 3 February the incident was finally resolved as Galvao and his 21 followers accepted Brazil’s offer of political asy1um. At 5PM on 4 February, the SANTA MARIA was officially returned to the Portuguese government.

All the ships participating in the incident were highly commended by the highest U.S. Officials. The following are examples:

"Please convey my respect and appreciation to Admirals Dennison and Smith and all Navy personnel who have handled the SANTA MARIA problem so we1l. This is just one of the many instances in which the Navy has shown that its fighting spirit is matched by it diplomatic will. Congratulations!" Signed ..... DEAN RUSK ..... Secretary of State.

"Your forces involved in the Santa Maria operation have operated under difficult and trying conditions. Their contribution to furthering effective U.S. policies and their successful completion of our objective despite ob­stacles are appreciated. Please express my appreciation to the hard working crews of your ships and aircraft." Signed ..... Arleigh Burke ..... Chief of Naval Operations.

Before his departure on 5 February, RADM Smith used the public address system and gave his thanks and praise to the men in GEARING. He recognized our increased workload and the many extra hours of toil performed by the crew in aiding the successful completion of the operations. He extended particular congratulations to the Operations Department for its consistently excellent performance in handling the communications. "Above all things," he said, "GEARING is a CAN DO ship. It has been a privilege to have GEARING for my flagship for this brief period."

We departed Recife at 5 PM on 5 February and were scheduled to arrive off the coast of West Africa on the 13th. We are returning to operation SOLANT AMITY and, we hope, a few quiet days at sea before we arrive.

Oh yes, on crossing the Equator during our cruise from Freetown to Recife, we discovered a “pollywog” in our midst. He was properly initiated into the Royal Order of the Deep by King Neptune and his court on the fantail on 28 January. Now the crew consists entirely of trusty shellbacks.

For planning purposes, our return to Charleston, S.C. in mid-April still looks good.

I sincerely appreciate the Christmas cards and letters which some of you have sent. Please continue to let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Return to the Solant Amity cruise site.