SS Columbia Eagle incident

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The SS Columbia Eagle incident refers to a mutiny that occurred aboard the US flagged merchant vessel Columbia Eagle in March 1970 when two crewmembers seized the vessel with the threat of a bomb and forced the master to sail to Cambodia. The ship was under contract with the Military Sea Transportation Service to carry napalm bombs to be used by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and was originally bound for Sattahip Thailand. During the mutiny, 24 of the crew were forced into two lifeboats and set adrift in the Gulf of Thailand while the remainder of the crew were forced to take the ship to a bay near Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The two mutineers requested political asylum from the Cambodian government which was initially granted but they were later arrested and jailed. Columbia Eagle was returned to US control in April 1970.

Background[edit]

Columbia Eagle[edit]

The Columbia Eagle was a Victory-type cargo ship constructed by Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation of Portland, Oregon in 1945 for the US Navy and originally christened Pierre Victory. She was designed to carry all types of dry supplies and munitions to both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. Like most of the ships of the Victory-type, Pierre Victory was decommissioned after the war and either mothballed or sold to commercial shipping companies. In 1968, she was purchased by the Columbia Steamship Company, renamed Columbia Eagle and contracted out to the Military Sea Transportation Service for the purpose of hauling supplies and ammunition to Southeast Asian ports in South Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War.[1] Because Columbia Eagle was a US flagged ship, she was a part of the Merchant Marine and therefore eligible under government contracting rules to haul military supplies to the war zone.[2]

History[edit]

Clyde William McKay, Jr.[edit]

Clyde McKay was born on 20 May 1944 near Hemet, California. His father was in the military at the time and often had duty away from the family. While a teenager he suffered a misdiagnosed bowel obstruction and was seriously ill for a year. Because of this, he lost a year in school and never finished high school and decided to join the merchant marine. McKay received his merchant marine documents on 23 October 1963 and joined the Seafarers International Union shortly thereafter.[3]

Alvin Leonard Glatkowski, Jr.[edit]

Alvin Glatkowski was born on 11 September 1949 at Augusta, Georgia. His father was also in the military at the time of his birth but shortly after Glatkowski was born his father abandoned the family. His mother married a Navy third-class machinist mate named Ralph Hagan when Glatkowski was three. Hagan was abusive to Glatkowski when he was home, but was often on duty or cruises and Glatkowski learned to be independent at an early age. As a teenager Glatkowski assumed the role of head of the household when Hagan was at sea and this made Hagan very angry when he returned home. He often took out his frustrations on Glatkowski violently, which led him to leave home at eighteen. Glatkowski went to New York and enrolled in the Harry Lundeberg School operated by the Seafarers International Union. Lundeberg School taught the skills needed to get deck, engine and steward jobs on merchant marine ships. On 17 April 1967 Glatkowski received his merchant marine papers stating he was eligible for entry-level jobs on US flagged ships.[4]

Mutiny[edit]

On 14 March 1970, McKay and Glatkowsk used guns they had smuggled aboard to seize control of their ship, SS Columbia Eagle, in the first armed mutiny aboard an American ship in 150 years. The ship had been sailing on a Department of Defense supply charter carrying napalm to the US Air Force bases in Thailand for use in the Vietnam War.

The mutineers claimed that there was a live bomb on board the ship, and forced the captain to order 24 of the crewmen to abandon ship in the lifeboats. The ship's cargo, 3,500 500-pound bombs and 1,225 750-pound bombs, gave this threat credibility.

When the crewmen departed in lifeboats, a SOS was transmitted. LCDR Bob Scalf and his VP-1 Crew 6, the famed "Scalf Hunters", operating their P-3B from Utapao, Thailand, were directed to launch on a Search & Rescue (SAR) mission to find the SS Columbia Eagle and assist as needed. Upon arrival at the ship and noticing a small crew and the presence of small arms, Crew 6 immediately reported the hijacking and their assessment that the ship was heading for Cambodia. Communications and status reporting was maintained until they were relieved on station. Crew 6 was awarded a well-done from CTF-72 for their actions.

The merchant ship Rappahanock picked up the lifeboats and crew members and broadcast the news of the mutiny. The United States Coast Guard cutter Mellon was the first US military vessel on station, pursuing the Columbia Eagle. The amphibious transport dock USS Denver was diverted to relieve the USCGC Mellon in its pursuit. However, the Columbia Eagle reached Cambodian waters before any US Naval assets could intercept.[5]

With only 13 crewmen remaining aboard besides themselves, the mutineers sailed into Cambodian waters, where they assumed they would be welcomed as heroes. They anchored within the 12-mile (22.2 km) territorial limit claimed by Cambodia on the afternoon of 15 March.

At 0951 on 16 March, Denver anchored 15.6 miles (28.9 km) from the coast in the Gulf of Siam, remaining outside Cambodian waters. The Mellon joined shortly thereafter with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, as senior officer present. Two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters landed on Denver from bases in Vietnam to assist in visual surveillance. Meanwhile, the mutineers had turned the ship over to Prince Norodom Sihanouk's government, declared themselves anti-war revolutionaries, and were granted asylum.[5]

On 17 March, the helicopters were detached and Denver, with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, departed for Singapore, passing on-scene command to Mellon.[5]

On 18 March at 0636 Denver reversed her course; Prince Sihanouk had been deposed by a coup led by the pro-US Sirik Matak and Lon Nol. If the Cambodians could be persuaded to release Columbia Eagle, Denver's flight deck could help the rescued crew members rejoin their ship. The coup was unfortunate for McKay and Glatkowski; they had hoped to find asylum in a (pro-)Communist country; instead, they became prisoners of the new Cambodian government. At 2359 on 18 March, Denver anchored in the Gulf of Siam 17.0 miles (31.5 km) from the coast of Cambodia.[5]

Sihanouk, now in exile, charged that the CIA had masterminded the mutiny to deliver weapons to Lon Nol. Both the mutineers and U.S. officials denied his charges, but the damage was done; no Communist forces would shelter the mutineers after they were labeled as CIA stooges.

When it became clear that Columbia Eagle's release was not imminent, Denver was detached to proceed to Da Nang.[5]

On 8 April, Colombia Eagle was permitted to leave Cambodian waters. She rendezvoused with USCGC Chase where a Navy explosive ordnance disposal team inspected the ship while Chase departed to An Thoi to pick up the Columbia Eagle crew and return them to the ship. With the crew and ship reunited, Chase escorted her to US Naval Base Subic Bay arriving 12 April.[6]

Status[edit]

McKay and Glatkowski were held by the post-coup Cambodian government for several months after their capture. A United Press newspaper interview from August 1970[7] describes them as living under guard in "a rusting World War II landing ship moored in the Mekong River," regularly using marijuana supplied by their guards, and making statements supporting the Manson Family and violent overthrow of the United States government.

After months of imprisonment, Glatkowski was extradited to the United States to face trial. He was charged with mutiny, kidnapping, assault and neglect of duty, convicted, and served his sentence.

McKay escaped from his captors along with U.S. Army deserter Larry Humphrey[8] and sought out the Khmer Rouge.[9] He was officially declared missing on 4 November 1970 and has never been located by the authorities. However, Richard Linnett and Roberto Loiederman, co-authors of The Eagle Mutiny, wrote an article for the February 2005 issue of Penthouse in which they report that remains brought back from Cambodia were positively identified as Clyde McKay's at the Naval forensic lab in Hawaii. Subsequently, the remains were cremated and the ashes were buried in the family plot in Hemet, California, where McKay had spent his youth.

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ Linnett, pp 67–68
  2. ^ Cutler, p 142
  3. ^ Linnett, pp 13–15
  4. ^ Linnett, pp 43–56
  5. ^ a b c d e "1970 Command History of USS Denver (LPD-9)" (pdf). Command Operations Reports. US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "Commander, Naval Forces Vietnam (April 1970)" (PDF). Monthly Historical Summary, April 1970. Naval Historical Center, U.S. Navy. pp. 31–32. Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "Manson Hero to Hijackers". Reading Eagle. 26 August 1970. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Biography of L. Humphrey in pownetwork.org
  9. ^ Linnett, pp 228–232
Sources
  • Cutler, Deborah W. and Thomas J. Cutler (2005). Dictionary of Naval Terms. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-150-8. 
  • Linnett, Richard and Roberto Loiederman (2001). The Eagle Mutiny. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-522-5. 

External links[edit]