This series of posts brings to light the incongruity of Heifer Project animals being donated and shipped to Italy in the spirit of Christian goodwill to help destitute Italians recover from World War II on the one hand and cigarettes for the black market being smuggled into Italy on the same ship on the other. This post picks up the story on the fourth Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Humanitas that departed Baltimore on June 9, 1948.
Like Charles Cutting and Byron Frantz on previous shipments, David Harner felt the ship reducing its speed as it approached the Naples harbor. “No one gave any explanation,” he says. “When I asked Señor Cortali [the radio man], he just shrugged and walked away–standard behavior when he didn’t want to answer a question. By nightfall, the ship was proceeding at a crawl, and finally, when it was completely dark, the ship came to a full stop. Crew members went around the ship making sure that no light escaped from the portholes or companionways. Still no explanation from the officers or crew. Suddenly, out of the dark roared several large, very fast speed boats.”
Harner’s crewmate Jim Moffet picks up the story. “A Jacob’s ladder was thrown over the side of our ship and a man came aboard. The crew of our ship began carrying boxes out of the hold and lowering them over the side into the boat. When it was loaded, another boat came out of the darkness and tied onto the side of us.”
Harner says, “After an hour or so, all of the speed boats had been loaded and they sped away into the darkness. Señor Cortali appeared. ‘You see? Cigarettes. You no tell anybody!’ We had witnessed a major cigarette smuggling operation. Cattle and cigarettes–strange cargo!”
After docking in Naples, Harner traveled up to Carrara, Italy, where the Brethren Service Committee had a project which was often visited by the cowboys on the Italian trips. Harner spent the rest of his summer there helping with the project’s children’s camps.
The cowboys on the next trip of the Humanitas once again experienced the smuggling operation. The outcome of their trip, however, was different from all the rest. Having heard the story from some of the cowboys who visited the project at Carrara, Harner writes it as his own:
“Soon after docking,” he says, “four or five men in suits, accompanied by several carabinieri with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders boarded the ship. They all looked grim. What they wanted was even grimmer. We were all under arrest: cowboys, crew, officers, and civilians…. We were escorted down through a gate and into the city. It wasn’t far before we came to a building with ‘Questura,’ carved into the stonework above the door. This was the Italian [police headquarters]. In a short time, the passengers were all released. In a few minutes more, thanks to the efforts of Señor Cortali, the cowboys were released. The officers and crew were all detained. As it turned out, all the officers and crew, except for Señor Cortali, were imprisoned for smuggling.”
A little embellishment here? Perhaps. But Jim Moffet’s brother Bob was on that shipment that had left Baltimore July 30, 1948. He wrote home on September 2, “The police really did give this ship a going over on the 22nd. They even went through some of our stuff. The captain, 1st mate, 3rd mate, chief engineer, and crew boss are all in jail. From what I hear I guess the police really did beat up the 1st mate. There is a fine of $35,000 that has to be paid by someone….”
A few days later, the Humanitas set sail once again for the US. The Heifer Project made one last shipment to Italy on October 12, 1948. The ship now had a different captain, and the cowboys on that crew reported no nefarious happenings.
The S. S. Humanitas appears to finally have lived fully up to its name, a Latin word indicating kindness and benevolence.
Oh, oh, what a powerfully detailed report about some of the horrors of shipping Heifer’s following WW2. Thank you, Peggy for capturing these stories and sending them to us!!!!
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Well – history appears to repeat itself sometimes…I was witnessing almost an identical story – but in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, in autumn of 1983, when I was a passenger on the Polish freighter Pawel Szwydkoj. We anchored in the bay, awaiting a berth – and at nightfall, I noticed crew members, who were very eagerly carrying boxes with Ballantines whisky and cigarettes out of a storage room aboard (the bulleyes of that room were covered with paper sheets). The boxes were brought down on a ladder at portside…and then suddenly police boats popped up…I thought ‘this is the end of it’..But no – the police boats took over all those many boxes and the policemen were talking to the crew members in the darkness…..after this, the boats disappeared into the darkness of the tropical night……
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Thanks for adding to the story, Gerhard L. Mueller-Debus!