Red Sail Sports

Antilla Remains-Aruba's Ghost Ship

By Ellsworth Boyd

The "Ghost Ship," a 400-foot-long German freighter called the Antilla was scuttled in shallow water off Aruba in 1940 when Germany invaded Holland.  Slipping furtively through a labyrinth of English and Allied defenses, the steamer made its way to foreign ports in search of goods to fuel the German war machine that was ravishing Europe.  But it met its match in Aruba--a neutral port until Germany grabbed Holland--where the captain sabotaged his own ship rather than surrender it to the enemy.

The Antilla, almost brand new (built in 1939) slipped into Aruba seeking supplies and fuel from the nearby oil refinery.  News of Holland's invasion had spread and when Dutch marines appeared at the dock, the captain knew his ship was in jeopardy.  Conceding defeat but not submission, he fired its boilers, opened the sea cocks and set his ship ablaze.

The 4,363-ton Hamburg American Line steamer, capable of carrying 120 passengers and crew in addition to cargo, turned on its port side and sank while facing shore only 600 yards from Malmok Beach.  Avoiding fatalities, the captain and crew rowed ashore and landed near the northwest tip of Aruba.

Historian Ken Bailey calls the Antilla "one of the best shipwreck dives in the Caribbean." Still ghostly, its massive silhouette casting eerie shadows across the sand, the popular site hosts visitors daily in water that averages 30 to 50 foot visibility.  Divemasters, shooing pelicans from their perches, tie into rusty wreckage that breaks the surface.  Snorkelers hover over the forecastle at 30 feet while scuba divers explore the stern only 60 feet deep.  Everybody is amazed at the starboard side of the ship that has become a wall of coral so thick it resembles a prolific reef.

In little to no current, yellowtail snapper, angelfish and bluehead wrasse dart between star and brain corals, while hamlet and damselfish hang beneath purple gorgonians. Four-eye butterfly fish and beaugregory seek refuge near white-tipped fire coral.  A yellow frogfish, nearly indiscernible in a jungle of sponges, anemones and tunicates, waits patiently for alert photographers.  Hundreds of white grunts school at the stern not far from the ship's propeller.  Starting at the stern and heading toward midship, where the vessel is broken in two, divers follow a coral covered railing along a passageway that seamen traversed over 50 years ago.

A series of large vertical windows, blown out in the ship's flaming demise, provide wide openings for a peek inside the superstructure. 

Stanchions, upright and tall, rise from the structure like soldiers at attention.  Bollards that moored the ship are too thick with marine growth to hold lines now.  Crisscrossing cables, puffed up by coral and sponges, beckon to macro photographers who might spend an entire dive hanging over them.

Divers pause to examine the crow's nest that rises halfway to the surface, then fin down to the base of the keel where small alcoves enveloped by dark shadows house a variety of critters.

Divemasters who've descended on the wreck hundreds of times say they still discover new sights with each visit.  As word spreads, more divers are Aruba bound to explore the old ghost ship that sank when it was almost new and while two countries were clashing on the brink of a world at war.

Photo: Red Sail Sports

Photo: Red Sail Sports

Photo: Red Sail Sports