The Story of the Drug-Running Freighter That Became One of Dutch Bonaire’s Favorite Reefs: Hilma Hooker, Lady With a Past

by Owen James Burke

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Above: The Hilma Hooker, (presumably) before her contraband-running days. Photo: Maritime Connector.

Built in the Netherlands and launched in 1951, the Hilma Hooker had quite, humble beginnings. She sailed to the Caribbean and had changed hands nearly half a dozen times before she was sold to the San Andrés Shipping Line of San Andrés, Colombia in 1979, and renamed Hilma Hooker. It was under this appellation that the vessel ran into trouble.

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A photograph of the Hilma Hooker hard up on a Dutch Bonaire reef, apparently snapped by a man named Hieronder, according to bonaireblog.nl.

Her service was relatively uneventful up until this point, and there’s no record of her having conducted any questionable or elicit business until the summer of 1984, when she began to suffer engine trouble off of Dutch Bonaire. She was towed in to Kralendijk, Bonaire, probably without much choice, for anyone aboard who may have been privy to the extent of her cargo would not have dared let the vessel come under the command of another, let alone that of a government employee.

She was docked at the Town Pier, where local authorities requested her registration papers for arrival in Dutch Bonaire, which the captain was unable to produce. A routine inspection of the vessel followed, which uncovered 25,000 pounds of marijuana stowed behind a false bulkhead.

The captain and crew were detained, while authorities conducted what would come to be a fruitless search for the vessel‘s owners.

The Hilma Hooker, meanwhile, sat in port, creating not just an eyesore, but taking up precious space. She began to take on water, and worries mounted that she would founder at the dock, which would have been a colossal disaster for the port and the island.

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Going. Photo: Hieronder/bonaireblog.nl.

That fall, she was brought to an anchorage where she continued to ship water. Within a week, it was clear that she was making for the depths, and on the morning of September 12th, 1984, she rolled over on her side and disappeared in two minutes flat.

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Gone. Photo: Hieronder/bonaireblog.nl.

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A diver, coral and a yellowtail snapper hover within the wreckage of the Hilma Hooker. Clark Anderson/Aquaimages.

According to Scuba Diving Travel Magazine, the Hilma Hooker is one of the premier shipwreck dives in the Caribbean.

Watch a video of the wreck:

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