Dutch presence in Cuban waters

The Netherlands and Cuba have done research together on Dutch shipwrecks in Cuban waters. Dutch former minister of education, culture and science Jet Bussemaker has made agreements about a joint research with Cuban vice-minister of culture Fernando Rojas.

There are at least 21 Dutch shipwrecks in Cuban waters, mostly from the 17th century. These are vessels of the Dutch West India Company (WIC) and hijacker fleets, such as Cornelis – Houtebeen - Jol, a hijacker who lost his fleet in Cuba. The most recent wreck is from 1942. That was the SS Medea, which sank after a hit of a torpedo from a German U-boat.

Research can provide a good insight of the relationship between the Netherlands and Cuba, the Netherlands and Spain, and the Dutch in the Caribbean, according to maritime archaeologist Martijn Manders of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), “those are the only objective sources we have''.

Former minister Bussemaker attached great importance to the investigation because it could give an image of early history and what the Netherlands is. She said: “Hopefully we will get to know more about the role the Netherlands played in the 17th century in the area that now forms the Caribbean part of the Kingdom: Caribbean Netherlands and the countries Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Even that episode is an integral part of our national history.”

Manders expected to find cannons and anchors. “Things that were on board like bottles of liquor and snuff boxes for example.”

The importance of the wrecks goes further than the objects that are located at the bottom of the sea. “In the wrecks there is a lot of material that can tell us something about that period. The ship itself says something about the technical developments of that time, the cargo, trade and trade contacts, and the armaments on the target. The personal belongings on board tell us something about the crew and the cookware, and the food and drinks on the life on board.”

In the 17th century the Netherlands was very active in that region. It was the most successful period of the WIC and even Dutch buccaneer fleets were seen in Cuban waters. In the background, there was the war between the Netherlands and Spain which affected the Spanish colonies in America, of which Cuba was part of.