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The Dominican Republic Steamship Line and the S.S. Nuevo Dominicano

Following World War 2, many American run steamship companies used older pre-war ships for cruising. In 1952 there were not many ships around and the larger ones were used for year-round trans-Atlantic along with trans-Pacific. There were not jets and many people wouldn’t fly.

In May 1948, the S.S. New Northland was sold to the Flota Mercante Dominicana, or Dominican Line, who announced they would run her between New York, Puerto Plata and Ciudad Trujillo, as Santo Domingo was known under the rule of Dominican dictator President Trujillo. She was renamed S.S. Nuevo Dominicano and crewed by the Dominican Navy.

For a year and a half she ran from New York, but not attracting enough passengers, she was replaced by cargo ships. This is where Frank Leslie Fraser came onto the scene. Fraser, whose family had started a banana shipping business from Jamaica in the 1930s, was the general administrator of the Flota Mercante Dominicana, president of Fraser Fruit & Shipping of Cuba, president of the Dominican Fruit & Steamship Co and managing director of the Maple Leaf Steamship Co of Montreal, through which he had purchased a number of coasters from Clarke and others when his own banana boats had been requisitioned during the war.

These coasters he had used to serve the Dominican Republic. But most important, he was president of the Eastern Shipping Corporation, who would now charter the Nuevo Dominicano to cruise out of Miami.

The Government of the Dominican Republic operated the 3,445-ton NUEVO DOMINICANO as a cruise ships out of Miami in 1953.  Accommodating 177 passengers, she is seen in Miami, Florida ready for departure.  

While visiting Kingston in his native Jamaica, he told the “Gleaner” that the Nuevo Dominicano would make fortnightly trips to Jamaica, with stops at Kingston and Montego Bay as well as Ciudad Trujillo on a 12-day cruise. By arrangement with the Bahamian Government, she would call at Nassau on Thursdays, leave on Friday morning and be in Miami by Saturday morning.

It was Fraser’s idea to bring the Nuevo Dominicano back to Miami, where she had operated successfully in the past. Under his direction, she was readied for cruising out of Miami once more. Despite her renaming, Eastern still used the old name in brackets, with the new Eastern Shipping Corp brochure exclaiming: “An exciting life will be yours aboard the s.s. Nuevo Dominicano (formerly known as the s.s. New Northland) with luxury accommodations for 177 passengers, completely refitted from stem to stern to provide all cruise comforts, modern services and delicious cuisine.

Attractively and comfortably furnished staterooms make this a giant, floating hotel for your enjoyment. You will delight in the spacious decks for sports or promenading, comfortable lounges, sunbathing and swimming in the ship’s swimming pool.” The new swimming pool had been installed where her forward hatch had been.

(Left: The S.S. Northland in earlier cruising years for Clarke Cruises.)

The Bahamians were busy however and on April 16, 1950, the “New York Times” reported that the Nuevo Dominicano would offer more Nassau voyages: “The Nuevo Dominicano, which made two Miami-Nassau cruises each month during the winter, has inaugurated a spring and summer schedule which includes six stops at Nassau each month. The vessel will visit Nassau twice on her nine-day cruises, one to Ciudad Trujillo, the other to Kingston, Jamaica, stopping at Nassau on both outward and homeward legs.

The vessel also will make two Miami-Nassau cruises each month, with a two-day stop in Nassau.”

The ship’s most famous passenger during this period was actor Clark Gable who with his wife travelled to Nassau for a golfing holiday in December 1950.

Although the Eastern Shipping Corporation was successfully in inaugurating year-round cruises from Miami, at the end of three years it decided to end its charter on the Nuevo Dominicano. For three years, all had gone well for the Nuevo Dominicano, but with a capacity of only 177 passengers, there was not much room for profit. Fraser’s absence would only be temporary, however.

The “white ship” under the Dominica Republic flag. 

To replace Eastern, the Dominicans formed the Dominican Republic Steamship Line in 1953. Unwisely, the naval personnel were withdrawn and a mixed crew took over the deck and engine departments. Standards began to drop. The ship no longer called at Jamaica, but ran 11-day winter cruises on alternate Mondays from Miami to Nassau, Ciudad Trujillo and Port-au-Prince, and 3-night Friday weekend cruises from Miami to Nassau. The 11-day cruises also offered a short one-way passage from Miami to Nassau.

Every Monday and Friday from July through September she ran 3-day cruises from Miami to Nassau. This was the opposite of what had been introduced by the New Northland in 1935 as these were summer cruises and not winter ones. The standard of the ship’s operation without Fraser can be judged by a post card sent by one passenger: “Dear Lou & Irv, Don’t book anyone on the s.s. Nuevo Dominicano. The ship is infested with rats, ants, and cockroaches, and the food is plain lousy and in very short variety. The Dominicans are not yet ready for the Americans.”

This passenger had no complaints – 1952. 

The new management not only failed in passenger service, but the ship also suffered continual breakdowns. That August, she had to be towed into Miami by the US Coast Guard, and again in September by a salvage tug. At this point, the US Coast Guard suspended her passenger certificate and required a general refit of the safety equipment.

She left Miami on October 9, 1953, for a refit in the Dominican Republic and within twenty-four hours was reported aground off Nuevitas, Cuba. On October 17, she ran aground again, on Punta Guarico, near Baracoa. On November 26, she was refloated and anchored in semi-protected waters but she suddenly went down.

Her end was reported in the “New York Times” on November 26, 1953, under the heading “Jinxed Liner Sinks at Anchor in Cuba”: “After a successful salvage operation, the empty passenger liner Nuevo Dominicano rolled over and ‘died’ in southern waters on Thursday night, it was reported here yesterday. No one was injured.”

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