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The Portuguese National Archives holds the original planning documents—some written on official printed materials for the Santa Maria liner—the rebels creating in preparing for the attack.
The assault on the Santa Maria was one of the strongest attacks against the Salazar dictatorship. In the early 1950’s Henrique Galvão, a former military in the Portuguese Army was arrested and expelled from the Army for his actions against Salazar’s government. In November of 1959, he escaped to Venezuela, where he was granted political asylum. There he started to organize an oppositionist group—Direcção Revolucionária Ibérica de Libertação - DRIL (Iberian Revolutionary Direction for Liberty)—to shake up Salazar’s and Franco’s regimes.
The Operation Dulcineia was the name of the action organized to hijack the Santa Maria ship—one of the most prestigious ships of the Portuguese Navy. For almost 2 years, Henrique Galvão studied and planned the assault, which took place in the early hours of January 22, 1961.
The ship left Lisbon on January 9th on its regular passage to Miami. When it reached Curaçao, Henrique Galvão came on board, joining 20 members of the oppositionist group already on the ship amongst the 612 passengers and 350 crewmembers.
The images from the National Archives show the detailed planning of the assault, including information about the measurements and location of various points on the ship, itinerary, timetables of stops for boarding, fuel, speed, length, number of crew members and passengers, and communication equipment, including radio and emergency transmitter. Galvão’s group was well-organized, and the notebook reproduced here shows that the operation's hierarchy, shifts that were made to keep the ship under control, and possible routes after the ship was hijacked.
Most of the crewmembers surrendered peacefully, but at least two who fought the assailants were shot. As soon as Henrique Galvão and Sotto Mayor had control of the ship, they turned its route towards the coast of Africa, but the presence of wounded crewmembers made them change the initial plan. The Santa Maria, renamed Santa Liberdade (Holy Freedom), docked at the Santa Luzia Island, Antilles so that the wounded could be treated.
Because of the Portuguese censorship, only foreign newspapers reported the incident. An American plane overflew the ship five days after Galvão and Sotto Mayor hijacked it. Galvão insisted with the American government that the hijacking was a political act and not piracy, and they were allowed to continue. In the end the initial plans had to be changed, and the Santa Liberdade docked at the port of Recife, Brazil, where captain Henrique Galvão and his group was granted political asylum.