RMS Ebro

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StateLibQld 1 170591 Serpa Pinto (ship).jpg
Serpa Pinto during the Second World War
United Kingdom
Name: RMS Ebro
  • Royal Mail Steam Packet Company: 1914-1922
  • PSNC: 1922-1935
Port of registry: British Red Ensign
Route: West Indies and New York City-Chile
Builder: Workman, Clark and Company, Belfast
Launched: September 1914
Maiden voyage: April 1915
Fate: Sold to Jugoslavenska Lloyd, 1935
Name: Princess Olga
Owner: Jugoslavenska Lloyd
Operator: Jugoslavenska Lloyd
Port of registry: Pan-Slavic flag.svg
Route: Dubrovnik-Haifa
Out of service: 1940
Fate: Sold to Companhia Colonial de Navegação, 1940
Name: Serpa Pinto
Owner: Companhia Colonial de Navegação
Operator: Companhia Colonial de Navegação
Port of registry: Lisbon, G-407 Flag of Portugal.svg
Route: Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Philadelphia, New York City and Havana
Maiden voyage: May 1940 to Beira, Mozambique
Out of service: 7 August 1954
Identification: CSBA
Fate: Scrapped at Antwerp, 1954
General characteristics
Type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 8,267 tons
Length: 142.47 m (467.4 ft)
Beam: 17.0 m (55.8 ft)
Draught: 6.85 m (22.5 ft)
Installed power: 6,000 hp
Propulsion: 2 beams
Crew: 160
  • 600
  • 250 First Class
  • 350 Third Class

RMS Ebro was an ocean liner built in 1914 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She was later owned and operated by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, Jugoslavenska Lloyd and finally by Companhia Colonial de Navegação. In her last incarnation, under the name Serpa Pinto, she made more crossings of the Atlantic during the Second World War than any other civilian vessel, leading to her being termed the Friendship vessel or Destiny ship.[1] She was scrapped in 1954.


The Ebro was ordered by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company from the Belfast shipbuilders Workman, Clark and Company. She was launched in September 1914, and was 468 ft long with a beam of 55.8 ft.

British service[edit]

The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company initially planned for Ebro to operate on the West Indies service in the Caribbean, but due to the start of the First World War, she made only a single voyage on this service, in April 1915. She was then requisitioned, together with her sister ship RMS Essequibo and four other liners of the company, by the Royal Navy to serve as auxiliary cruisers armed with eight 6-inch guns, depth charges and mines. The ships were integrated in the 10th Auxiliary cruiser squadron, where they served as convoy escorts throughout the war.

After the war Ebro was returned to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The company decided to sell her to the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, which refitted her and then placed her on the New YorkChile service, sailing through the Panama Canal. She carried out this service until the 1929 Wall Street crash forced the company into bankruptcy in 1930. Ebro was then moored at Avonmouth until 1935.[2]

Yugoslav service[edit]

In 1935 Ebro was sold to Yugoslavenska Lloyd and re-named Princess Olga. Under Yugoslav ownership, Princess Olga was used on the DubrovnikHaifa route, transporting passengers and general cargo. In 1940 Princess Olga was bought by the Portuguese company Companhia Colonial de Navegação.

Portuguese service[edit]

By 1940 the Second World War had greatly increased the numbers of people seeking to leave Europe for the Americas. Companhia Colonial de Navegação operated the small and underpowered Colonial on the Lisbon – Rio de Janeiro route. During 1940 Colonial transported around 2000 people to Brazil. With the increased demand, and already overstretched with passenger routes from Lisbon to Angola and Mozambique, to the Portuguese State of India, Macau and East Timor, in 1940 Companhia Colonial de Navegação decided to purchase Princess Olga to carry greater numbers of passengers between Portugal and its colonies. Prior to this, the service had been carried out by pre-First World War liners, like Colonial and her sister ship Mouzinho, the former SS Corcovado. The Princess Olga was bought in April 1940, re-named Serpa Pinto and sailed to Lisbon. Her first voyage under the Portuguese flag was carried out soon after her arrival in Lisbon in May 1940, sailing to Lourenço Marques.

When Italy declared war on the Allies in June 1940, all Italian shipping routes were closed. Only three companies from neutral countries maintained their transatlantic routes. These were the Portuguese Companhia Nacional de Navegação and Companhia Colonial de Navegação and the Spanish Ybarra, from Seville. The Spanish company, however, did not have enough ships to best utilize the transatlantic routes.

From August 1940 Serpa Pinto began her service on the transatlantic routes between Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro and North America (Philadelphia and New York).

She was repeatedly stopped in mid-Atlantic by German submarines and US Navy and Royal Navy ships for inspections. On 26 May 1944, on its way from Lisbon (departure 16 May 1944) to Port Richmond, Philadelphia, USA (arrival 30 May 1944), the Serpa Pinto was stopped in the mid-Atlantic by the German U-boat U-541.[3] The U-boat's captain ordered the Serpa Pinto's crew and passengers to abandon the ship in the lifeboats, and requested permission from Kriegsmarine headquarters to torpedo the ship. The passengers and crew, with the exception of the captain who decided to remain on board whatever the German decision, duly left the ship in the lifeboats. There they were forced to wait all night while the German U-boat awaited a reply to its request. By dawn an answer had arrived from Admiral Karl Dönitz, who refused permission to sink the ship. The U-boat then departed the area and the lifeboats returned to the ship. Three passengers were drowned during this incident.[4]

During the Second World War Serpa Pinto made ten voyages between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, and ten between Lisbon and Philadelphia and New York. Since it was one of the few ships making transatlantic voyages in this period, many of the refugees from Nazi Europe who reached the United States and Brazil in this period traveled on the ship. (The other important but smaller ships were the Mouzinho and the Nyassa.) Some of the more notable refugees, most of whom were of Jewish background, included Marcel Duchamp,[1] Simone Weil,[1] Pierre Dreyfus (son of Alfred Dreyfus),[1] Menachem Mendel Schneerson,[5] Marc Rich,[6] and Naoum Aronson.[7]

Also in this group were many children who came unaccompanied, without their parents, some of whom had been killed by the Nazis (see One Thousand Children). Many of these unaccompanied children were aided in Europe and in transit by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the "Joint"),[8], the French Jewish organization Œuvre de secours aux enfants, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). One of these children became the rock impresario Bill Graham.[9]

After the war Serpa Pinto remained on the Lisbon – Rio de Janeiro – Santos route until the company's new ocean liners Vera Cruz and Santa Maria entered service. Her last voyage to Brazil took place in July 1953. Afterwards she was placed on the Caribbean route (Lisbon – Havana) making 12 round trips to Havana, with stops at Vigo, Funchal, La Guaira and Curacao.[2]

On 9 July 1954, Serpa Pinto sailed from Lisbon on her last voyage, São Vicente – Rio de Janeiro and Santos.[10]


After her last voyage, Serpa Pinto remain moored in Lisbon until 5 September 1954, when she departed under tow for Antwerp, Belgium, to be scrapped.


  1. ^ a b c d Eckl, Marlen. "Review: Serpa Pinto, the Ship of Destiny". Casa Stefan Zweig.
  2. ^ a b Rossini, José Carlos (5 January 1992). "Navios: o Serpa Pinto" (in Portuguese). A Tribuna de Santos.
  3. ^ List of all U-boats: U-541 Archived 14 March 2012 at WebCite. Uboat.net Retrieved 7 May 2016]
  4. ^ de Dijn, Rosinne (2009). Das Schicksalsschiff [Rio de Janeiro - Lissabon - New York]. Deutsche Verlags – Anstalt. ISBN 978-3-421-04350-4.
  5. ^ Taub, Shais. "Sivan 28: An American at Sinai". Chabad.org. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  6. ^ Ammann, Daniel (2009). The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-0-312-57074-3.
  7. ^ "Naoum Aronson, Russian Sculptor (obituary)" (PDF). New York Times. 1 October 1943. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  8. ^ "677 Refugees Land, Many Are Children" (PDF). New York Times. 26 June 1942. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  9. ^ Wohlgelernter, Elli. "Graham, Bill". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  10. ^ Bonsor, N.R.P. "Ebro/Princes Olga/Serpa Pinto". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012.