The Story of the Wreck of the Oro Verde

The Story of the Wreck of the Oro Verde

Originally built for the US Army Transportation Corps, the FS-217 left it’s dry dock at Higgins Industries in New Orleans and was delivered to the Army Air Forces where she was named the Colonel Armond Peterson. After spending 11 years doing coastal surveys off the Lesser Antilles and Central America, the Colonel Armond Peterson was placed in reserve on the 17th of February, 1956. Shortly thereafter, the 181-foot ship was acquired by the U.S. Navy and was renamed the USS Palm Beach. She was converted to a Banner class “environmental research ship (AGER-3)” at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and commissioned into service on May 13, 1967. The USS Palm Beach was deployed to the North Sea and also toured the Mediterranean during its two-year career with the U.S. Navy. Technical research ships were used by the Navy to gather intelligence and intercept wireless communications from hostile nations during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. The USS Palm Beach was the sister ship of the USS Pueblo, which was captured by North Korea while spying off its coast on Jan. 23, 1968, and remains a captive vessel today.

The USS Pueblo was engaged in a routine surveillance of the North Korean coast when it is intercepted by North Korean patrol boats. According to U.S. reports, the Pueblo was in international waters almost 16 miles from shore, but the North Koreans turned their guns on the lightly armed vessel and demanded its surrender. The Americans attempted to escape, and the North Koreans opened fire, wounding the commander and two others. With capture inevitable, the Americans stalled for time, destroying the classified information aboard while taking further fire. Several more crew members were wounded.
The capture of the “Pueblo” compromised the missions and technical equipment used by other AGER “research ships” such as the USS Palm Beach making the Palm Beach useless and shortly thereafter was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Registry. The vessel was passed through the hands of a few owners before eventually being acquired by a Panamanian company and renamed the “M/V Oro Verde”.

Local legend has it that bananas weren’t the only cargo of value carried by the Oro Verde. Stories of a mutiny over a load of marijuana found by the crew have been told by scuba diving enthusiasts since her sinking in 1980. Although it’s difficult to say with any certainty if there is truth in the story, we did stumble across an article published by the Miami Herald that would lend credence to her and her crew being up to no good. It seems that someone wanted to sink her years before her date with destiny at the bottom of Grand Cayman’s crystal clear waters.

The Miami Herald
Cigar Box Bomb Attached to Ship

By Gene Miller
Herald Staff Writer
A homemade bomb in a cigar box, attached by a magnet to the hull of a British cargo ship, failed to explode at the Miami City Docks Tuesday – apparently because an undersea bomber didn’t set it correctly. “It should have gone off,” said Capt. Tom Brodie, chief of the Sheriff’s Office bomb squad.
The ship the 180-foot 692-ton Oro Verde, was due to sail late in the day for a five-day trip to Cristobal, Panama. From there, after unloading, its normal route takes it through the Panama Canal to Ecuador.
“We don’t have the slightest idea why anyone would want to blow up our ship, ” said Robert Trost, operations manager for Chester, Blackburn & Roder Inc., Miami agents.
Horace Barron, a crane operator loading general cargo, first noticed something peculiar attached to the hull several feet below the waterline.
“He’d looked at it for a couple of hours and didn’t know what to think,” said Bob Kretzschmar, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to docks.
The ship was on the north side of Pier C, berth three.
But before it arrived there at 7 a.m., it had unloaded bananas at the parking lot dock of the Banana Supply Co. on the river. The ship reached Miami Sunday.
“The crane operator started talking to the crew and someone finally decided to call the Coast Guard,” said Kretzschmar.
“The Coast Guard took one look and said ‘Call the bomb squad.'” This was at 11:28 a.m.
Capt. Brodie, accustomed to frequent false reports, also needed but a single glance. He took off his shoes and shirt, jumped in, and deactivated it.
The time-bomb put inside a wooden Cuban cigar box consisted of a cast-made explosive, pentalite, and weighed about two pounds.
Attached to it was an acid pellet triggering device floating underwater in a prophylactic. It looked like a ping-pong ball in a balloon from the surface.
When the pellet or ampule is crushed, the acid begins to eat at the wire. When the wire gives, a spring releases a hammer which strikes the primmer of the cap.
“Someone didn’t set it right,” said Capt. Brodie. “It should have gone off.”
Pentalite, he said, is a “very high order explosive, a step above TNT or the normal plastic explosives. It would have blown quite a hole in the hull.”
Investigators said they didn’t know whether or not the ship would have sunk.
Capt. Brodie said that pentalite is often used by militant Cuban exiles here. There was one unverified report that the CIA once had an interest in the ship.

Below is the propaganda video sold by the North Koreans at the site of the captured USS Pueblo.