This Week in 1977, Curaçao's Superior Producer Became an Iconic Caribbean Wreck
One of Curaçao’s most well loved dive sites, widely regarded as one of the best wrecks in the world, sank on 30 September 1977. Bryan Horne of Dive Curacao takes look at the history of the MV Superior Producer, and how it came meet its untimely end
The coastal cargo ship MV Superior Producer began life in 1957 as the MV Andromeda, built by Handel & Scheepsbouw Maatschappij Kramer and Booy NV, from Kootstertille, Netherlands. Measuring 50.22m (165ft) in length and 7.79m (25.5ft) in width and with a maximum draught of 2.58m (8.5ft), the 400-tonne freighter was delivered on 8 November 1957 to Muller and Reitsma NV, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. On 22 February1962, she was sold to the shipping company Rederij L Remeeus, also based in Rotterdam, where she was re-registered as the MV Superior Producer.
For the most part, the ship had a rather mundane existence, picking up and dropping off cargo along the Dutch coastline. The vessel changed hands several times over the next few years until 13 November 1970, when she was sold to shipping agent Pan-Ven Line SA. The Superior Producer was re-flagged to represent her new Panamanian home port and deployed for the sole purpose of moving cargo between Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, and Pampatar, a city on Venezeula's Isla Margarita.
Early in the morning of 30 September 1977, the MV Superior Producer docked in St Annabaai on the inside of Curaçao Harbour, just past the famous Queen Emma floating bridge which spans the harbour. She was loaded with a Christmas cargo consisting of whisky, bottles of perfume, clothing - including a large shipment of blue jeans - and bags, destined for Venezuela and the upcoming holiday shopping season.
The vessel was so overloaded that the captain himself advised against sailing, but at 1:30pm on that fateful Thursday afternoon, the crew of nine Venezuelan and Colombian men cast off the lines and set sail. As soon as they left the safe confines of the harbour, rough seas caused the cargo to shift, and the ship immediately took on a dangerous list. The captain ordered a portion of the improperly stowed cargo to be thrown overboard, but to no avail, as the crew had neglected to close the portholes, and the Producer had already begun taking on water. Even the efforts of the Curaçao Port Authority tugboat to pull the ship upright again proved ineffectual.
After several unsuccessful attempts at stabilising the ship, the harbourmaster – fearing for safety of the crew and concerned that the harbour entrance might be damaged or blocked – halted the rescue effort and tugged the Superior Producer approximately 500m (1,640ft) west of the harbour entrance. At 4.30pm, three hours after casting-off, the Superior Producer disappeared below the waves and into the turquoise depths, about 150m (500ft) from shore. The captain and crew safely abandoned ship and were picked up by a boat from the harbour police.
Word of the sinking spread across Curaçao like wildfire. Scuba divers, free-divers and snorkelers alike arrived on the shoreline from all over the island to scavenge the wreck for all its cargo. It was described as 'pure chaos' at the time, and within a few days, there was nothing left – even the neglected portholes had been taken. Curaçao's Christmas market was well-stocked with an abundance of blue jeans.
Today, the wreck sits upright on an even keel, with her bow facing west in roughly 30m (100ft) of water, approximately 150m (500ft) from the shoreline just west of the Curaçao Mega-pier. The wreck is an advanced dive but easily accessible from either boat or shore, with Curaçao's clear water making the Producer easy to spot from the surface. The best approach is generally to begin the dive at the stern due to the direction of the prevailing currents, which are rarely very strong.
As you descend the fringing reef from a shore dive, an eerie dark shadow starts to appear as you head out into open water. At first, you only see the stern, but then the entirety of this magnificent 50m (165ft) mass, with its superstructure rising to within 21m (72ft) of the surface reveals itself, covered in a vast kaleidoscope of colour. Today, with more than 40 years of growth, the Superior Producer has become an amazing artificial reef site home to numerous colonies and different species of corals, sponges, gorgonians and sea whips. Because of this, it is a natural attraction for schools of large predatory fish such as tarpon, barracuda, snappers and jacks.
The Producer is also a heaven for anyone who likes to take a closer look at smaller stuff – and macro photographers will find plenty to fill their lenses. Caribbean spiny lobsters, parrotfish, French and queen angelfish, turtles, scorpionfish and moray eels are all present around the wreck. Look closer for banded coral shrimp, nudibranchs, flamingo-tongue shells and, if you have good eyes, frogfish camouflaged against the corals and sponges. Basket stars, octopus and large spider crabs catch the eye while night diving this beautiful shipwreck too.
With its wide-open cargo holds and accessible wheelhouse, encrusted in bright corals and surrounded by wildlife, the Superior Producer has become renowned as one of the top wreck dives in the world, taking a place alongside the likes of the Red Sea's SS Thistlegorm and Bali's USAT Liberty.
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