La Coubre explosion

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The freighter La Coubre (sometimes erroneously called "Le Coubre") exploded at 3:10 p.m. on 4 March 1960, while it was being unloaded in Havana harbor, Cuba. This 4,310-ton French vessel was carrying 76 tons of Belgian munitions from the port of Antwerp. Unloading explosive ordnance directly onto the dock was against port regulations. Ships with such cargoes were supposed to be moored in the center of the harbor and their high-risk cargo unloaded onto lighters.[1] The death toll was between 75 and 100 people with more than 200 people injured.[2]


The explosion is often attributed to the CIA[3] who wished to overthrow the new government of Fidel Castro.

At the time of the explosion, Che Guevara was in a meeting in the INRA building. After hearing the blast and seeing the debris cloud from a window overlooking the port area, he drove to the scene and spent the next few hours giving medical attention to the scores of crew members, armed forces personnel, and dock workers who had been injured, many of them fatally.[4]

Thirty minutes after the first explosion, while hundreds of people were involved in a FAR-organized operation to rescue victims and secure the ship, a second even more powerful explosion occurred, resulting in many further fatalities. Father John McKniff (a Roman Catholic missionary priest) and nurse Gloria Azoy, both of whom had rushed to the scene and were assisting the wounded and giving last rites, were thrown to the pavement by the second explosion. Although stunned, they survived amid the clouds of expended explosives and dust and continued their work. Father McKniff, given his long work as a missionary in Cuba and elsewhere, is currently being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.[5]

The next day, March 5, Fidel Castro claimed that the United States was responsible for the explosion, a charge the U.S. dismissed as an "unfounded and irresponsible accusation."[6]

Although the exact toll of the La Coubre explosions remains uncertain, it is estimated that there were at least 75 dead and approximately 200 injured, with some sources giving figures that are much higher. Cuban government spokesmen and some other sources occasionally have put forward the claim that this event was an act of sabotage carried out by William Alexander Morgan acting on orders from the CIA.[7] Morgan was executed a year after the explosion in March 1961.

La Coubre was towed to a dry-dock in Havana Harbor where it underwent extensive repairs. It eventually returned to service and continued to be owned and operated by the French Compagnie Générale Transatlantique until 1972, when it was sold to a shipping company in Cyprus and renamed the Barbara.

Guerrillero Heroico, the iconic photo of Che Guevara, was taken by Alberto Korda at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion.

Source notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fursenko, Aleksandr and Timothy J. Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, New York: 1998, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 40.
  2. ^ Phillips, R. Hart (March 5, 1960). "75 DIE IN HAVANA AS MUNITIONS SHIP EXPLODES AT DOCK; Government Said to Suspect Sabotages -- Castro Paper Hints at U.S. Role MORE THAN 200 INJURED Vessel's Stern Sinks -- Many Buildings Are Damaged -- Troops Ring District 75 Killed in Havana Explosion Of French Ammunition Vessel". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Miller, Nicola (1989).Soviet relations with Latin America, 1959-1987. p. 75. ISBN 0-521-35193-6
  4. ^ "04 March 1960". Che en el tiempo, accessed 27 September 2006
  5. ^ Miami Herald, "El cura de 'La Coubre' a un paso de la canonización" (18 December 2000). Online at CUBANET INTERNACIONAL, accessed 29 November 2006
  6. ^ Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 7, 1960 Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960 Volume VI, Cuba, Document 469
  7. ^ Miami Herald, "Dockworker set ship blast in Havana, American claims". Online at, accessed 19 March 2006


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