Lucona Affair

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Event.png Lucona Affair  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Lucona.jpg
Date23 January 1977
LocationIndian Ocean
Deaths6
DescriptionFreighter sunk in insurance fraud. Involved several top leaders of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, thus creating the biggest scandal in post-war Austrian history.

The Lucona Affair involved the freighter Lucona, which sank after an explosion on January 23, 1977 in the Indian Ocean, killing six of the twelve crew members. The case was an attempted insurance fraud, and the loss of the crew was part of the calculations.[1]

Of deep politics interest is that the official cargo, an uranium ore processing plant of high interest to several countries developing nuclear weapons at the time (the Shah's Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, apartheid South Africa etc.) could also be moved off the books[citation needed]. The whole operation might be connected to a larger weapons smuggling network involving both Eastern and Western countries and intelligence services, but which was not explored further by the judicial system.

In the course of the subsequent investigation, the incident expanded into Austria's biggest post-war political scandal, in which several top politicians were entangled and which engulfed the country from 1977 to 1992.

The ship

The Lucona was launched on October 15, 1966. The ship was initially named Steinberg and over the years was renamed Niolon (1971), Lucona (1974), Atlantic Progress (1975) and again Lucona (1976).[2]

Lucona affair

In 1976, the ship was chartered by Udo Proksch, the then owner of the prestigious Viennese Demel coffee house. In the stories above the cafe, the deep state Club 45, with top politicians and business leaders, had its meeting locale. The ship was officially loaded with a uranium ore processing plant at the port of Chioggia in northern Italy. The cargo was insured with the federal state insurance in Vienna for 212 million schillings (around 48,000,000 euros based on today's purchasing power). The delivery address was a straw man for Proksch. The ship, which was equipped with an explosive charge from the Austrian army, was sunk on January 23, 1977 in a deep sea area around ​the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The death of the entire twelve-man crew was coolly taken into account. Six crew members actually lost their lives.

The federal state insurance company, however, refused to pay out the sum insured because they suspected that the Lucona had not loaded the claimed valuable freight, but rather scrap, namely equipment from an abandoned coal mine. The cargo represented a value of only 1 million schillings (about 73,000 euros).

It was never clarified exactly what the explosive charge was detonated with. Remote triggering by means of longwave transmitter would only have been theoretically possible at the great distance (6,000 km). Ignition with an acid igniter was ruled out because of its unreliability, both in terms of ignition reliability and timing. The most likely option is therefore the use of a timer. The Austrian Armed Forces had time fuses that ran for a maximum of 21 days and a car battery was sufficient for their power supply.

The box containing the explosives was brought to Chioggia by road on December 29, 1976. The loading took place on the night of January 4 to 5, 1977, and the box was placed on the double floor of the ship in front of frame 84. The hatch covers were closed on January 6, 1977, after which the Lucona left Chioggia. According to the loading papers, 700 tons of cargo should have been on board, but based on the draft marks it is clear that only a maximum of 388 tons, taking into account the ballast water possibly only 280 tons of goods, were loaded. Because of the lighter load, the ship went faster than with 700 tons of cargo, and would have been in relatively shallow waters between India and Sri Lanka at the time of the explosion on January 23, 1977. Therefore, manipulations on the part of the charterer took place, which delayed the journey.

After the Lucona arrived in Port Said on January 10, 1977 around 7:00 a.m., the Suez canal fee was not transferred in time, so that the Lucona was no longer able to travel through the Suez Canal on January 10, 1977, but only the next morning. The second manipulation was carried out by instructing the captain to change course towards Africa after passing the Red Sea instead of the bunker port Aden on the route and to bunker in Djibouti. By this detour, the Lucona lost another day and was on January 23, 1977 at one of the deepest places in the Indian Ocean, at 4,192 m, when the explosion occurred at 12 p.m. GMT (4 p.m. local time). The time of the explosion lies within the 21-day period of the army time fuse, the explosion took place at 12.00 GMT, and the delays in the journey indicate that nothing could be changed in the timing during the journey, and therefore the Lucona had to be steered to an "appropriate "sinking point.

Exposure

The Lucona case was uncovered by the journalists Gerald Freihofner and Hans Pretterebner. Pretterebner processed the collected details in a book, which he self-published in 1987 and sent to people from shipping circles.

To clarify the involvement of politicians in the case, especially political connections to the Social Democrat Party, which was heavily involved in Club 45, a parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up between 1988 and 1989, as a result of which the President of the National Council Leopold Gratz and the Interior Minister Karl Blecha (both SPÖ) resigned. The legal processing of the incident plunged the country into an unprecedented political scandal: 16 politicians, lawyers and top officials were removed from their posts, indicted or convicted; the Austrian Defense Minister Karl Lütgendorf died in 1981, officially by suicide.

On behalf of the Viennese judiciary, the US company Oceaneering, which specializes in deep-sea imaging, found the wreck of the Lucona on the floor of the Indian Ocean on February 5, 1991 after a search lasting several days. A remote-controlled diving robot created 15 hours of video material and around 100 still images of the wreck. They show a field of debris on the sea floor: the bow of the ship with anchor chain and hawse was some distance from the rest of the wreck, the forward cargo hold was smoothly cut through, while the stern showed only relatively minor damage. [3]

Trial

The trial against Proksch at the Regional Criminal Court in Vienna ended in 1992 with a guilty verdict for six murders, and a life sentence. Proksch died at the end of June 2001 after heart surgery while in custody. The second mastermind in the Lucona case - Hans Peter Daimler - was sentenced in 1997 by the Kiel Regional Court to a 14-year prison term for aiding and abetting six murders and attempted insurance fraud.

Failure to pursue

Indications of any involvement of foreign secret agencies (CIA, KGB, Stasi and BND) in this affair and the associated sham deals were brought before the court in Kiel, but not pursued further. The attempt to portray Daimler as a pawn sacrifice failed.



References