Long-scuttled cargo ship becomes environmental case

The Museo Nacional has this newspaper photo of the 'Fella' and the 'Eisenach' in the distance burning after explosions.

A dramatic event at the beginning of World War II has resurfaced as an environmental problem just off the beach at Puntarenas Centro.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo has ordered that any salvage work on the sunken cargo ship “Fella” be halted and asked that the Servicio Nacional de Guardacoastas and the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación keep watch on the site.

The environmental tribune is seeking an evaluation of the wrecked boat by the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental mainly because the wreck has been converted by nature into a reef that harbors sea life.

In recent weeks complaints have emerged that locals are salvaging metal and other materials from the boat.

The “Fella,” a boat of Italian ownership and registry, and the “Eisenach,” a German cargo boat, both sought shelter in a neutral port when war loomed in Europe.

Anthropologist Roberto Le Franc Ureña has outlined the events on a Museo Nacional Web page. He said that the German boat has been in port since Sept.1, 1939, and that the Italian boat arrived from Panamá June 5 the next year. The vessels basically were stranded.

There was concern that the boats were being used by Nazi spy networks. Costa Rican officials stripped boat vessels of their radios, the anthropologist said, but there were rumors that the boats were back on the air and perhaps getting messages sent in code by lights on shore.

March 31, 1941, both vessels suffered an early morning explosion and sank. Capt. Gabriel Locatelli Gabrielli of the “Fella” and Capt.  Gerhard Loers Struck of the “Eisenach” are presumed to have received orders to scuttle the vessels from their governments and shipping companies in Europe, perhaps passed through German diplomats in Costa Rica.

Not long after, Le Franc noted, the “Eisenach” was raised and repaired. It went back into service as a cargo ship, he said. Attempts to raise the “Fella” were unsuccessful. It was believed carrying a cargo of marble, although there were rumors of war materials.

The boat lay in Puntarenas harbor for more than 60 years rusting. At extremely low tide part of the boat could be seen, locals said.

The environmental tribunal said it got a report last week of a Sala IV constitutional court appeal by a Puntarenas resident about efforts by others to dismantle the boat underwater. The tribunal said it sought information from the municipality over any permits that would allow the work and warned that the activity may be affecting the reef that has formed around the boat.

Thursday the Tribunal issued its restrictive order and asked for an environmental report in 10 days.

Reports from Puntarenas say that a barge had erected a crane above the wreck and that large pieces of metal were being brought ashore.

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