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Curaçao, an island of harbors

Curaçao owes its maritime prosperity to its favorable location. This is the island where the international trade routes of the Atlantic Ocean meet. Along the south coast, Curaçao has several superb harbors. These were formed more than 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age. As the ice melted the hollowed out basins filled with seawater.

Willemstad the capital of Curaçao was build around the harbor.
The St. Annabay, Schottegat and Waaigat together form an inland water of some four square miles (10km2) with a depth of around 65 feet (20 m). The margin between ebb and flood is just two feet (60 cm). This makes the Curaçao harbor an excellent, safe natural harbor.

Indians and Spaniards

Curaçao was probably first inhabited some two thousand years ago. These original islanders, the Arawak Amerindians of the Caquetíos tribe, came over from the South American mainland. By the time the Spaniards arrived in 1499 there were an estimated 2,000 Indians on Curaçao. They formed several tribes, spread over fifteen villages. In 1515, the Spanish deported the Indians as slaves. There was a meager trade during Spanish period from 1499-1634.
The Spaniards made little use of Curaçao and marked the island as an useless island.

The Dutch West Indian Company

The Dutch West India Company (WIC) saw Curaçao as a potentially valuable base in the Caribbean. On July 29 1634 the Dutch took over the island. They was little resistance: there were only 32 Spaniards on the island, of which ten were children. Along with most of the Indians, they were deported to the mainland. Under the Dutch West India Company, Curaçao became a center of trade. The town was built with a harbor open to all commerce, including private traders. Meanwhile, the WIC also encouraged colonization.

Willemstad: harbor town

In the 1640's, St. Annabaai became the site of a harbor town: Willemstad. The town that grew between 1676 and 1732 was to remain practically unchanged until 1860. Willemstad's harbor area formed a melting pot of cultures. Seafarers from every corner of the globe gathered here. Crews were paid off after each voyage. It was then up to the men to look after themselves until they could find a new ship. Many seamen lived on Curaçao and most were either slaves, freed slaves or mulattos. Curaçao became the main base for Dutch privateers. The prosperity of the island owed much to these privateers. Moreover, they provided an essential protection against attacks by enemy privateers.

Slave trade

Between 1670 and 1815 Curaçao was the center of the Dutch slave trade. Scores of thousands of Africans were transported here to work on the plantations of South America and the Caribbean islands. The Dutch West India Company had several bases on the West Coast of Africa. Fort Elmina, originally founded by the
Portuguese, was the largest and the site of a major slave market. After 1730,
the WIC left the slave trade increasingly to private slave traders.

Smuggling trade

A lively illicit trade with the Spanish colonials on the mainland developed in Curaçao. Spain's colonies were isolated. Officially, they were only allowed to trade with Spaniards, but the links with the Spanish fleet were tenuous. Consequently, there was a constant shortage of slaves, European goods and customers for products. The illicit trade with the Dutch Republic was more than welcome. In the eighteenth century, the trade grew to such an extent that Venezuela became economically dependent on Curaçao. A situation that continued into the nineteenth century.

Curaçao under Britain

Between 1650 and 1670, England was regularly at loggerheads with the Dutch. Curaçao's monopoly in the slave trade was especially irritating to the English. Once they had chased the Dutch out of New York in 1665, the English focused their attention on Curaçao. They commissioned privateers to do their dirty work. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, the French occupied the Dutch Republic in Europe. The French navy was soon using Curaçao as a harbor, and the island paid the cost. Moreover, the British, who were at war with France, blockaded the trade of the island.

Curaçao was therefore keen to be rid of the French.
The island government was even prepared to accept British dominion. From 1800 to 1803 and from 1807 to 1816 Curaçao was administered by the British. The Dutch regained the island in 1816. Meanwhile, the Dutch Republic had become the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with its own Royal Dutch Navy.

International harbor

Trade stagnated worldwide in the years 1800-1840. South America, where most of Curaçao's goods were sold, was in the grip of wars of independence. Willemstad harbor found itself becalmed. In an attempt to attract trade, in 1827 Willemstad was declared a free port, with no taxes or excise.
The harbor's fortunes gradually revived in the 1840s. In the 1860s the tide turned. Trade and shipping increased considerably. By 1900, Willemstad was a lively commercial center with thoroughly modern facilities. Shipbuilding flourished between 1840 and 1890. Curaçao shipbuilders were especially
noted for their schooners. Their size and solid construction made these
vessels ideal for the ocean traffic to America and Europe. In the 1890s, Curaçao shipbuilders came under increasing pressure from the competition of the cheaper Trinidad and Barbados. The main shipbuilders on Curaçao were J.A. Jessurun and S.E.L. Maduro.

Packet services and connection lines

A regular packet service between Europe and Curaçao became available in the nineteenth century. In 1827-1829, the paddle steamer Curaçao was introduced.
It was something of a gamble, since steam was still in its infancy. Moreover,
the Curaçao was a rather small vessel for ocean travel. The Curaçao was the
first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It made the voyage in 28 days;
sailing ships took forty days to cross. However, after three voyages beset with problems, the experiment was dropped. In 1882, an Amsterdam, New York and Curaçao line was established. Connections with Curaçao improved dramatically and Curaçao became a major focal point, not least since Curaçao was the first port of call for many European ships crossing the Atlantic. By 1910 around 25 steamers were entering the harbor each month on regular lines from seven different countries.
By 1939, Curaçao was the world's seventh busiest harbor. The peak came in 1952.
In the years that followed the transit port function gradually declined. From 1910,
motorized ships ran increasingly on oil rather than coal.
Curaçao was quick to take advantage. There was nowhere in the Caribbean to compete with the speed and price at Curaçao. Between 1914 and 1930 Willemstad became a major fueling station. S.E.L. Maduro & Sons was by far the largest supplier of coal. With its own water utility and ice factory, the S.E.L. Maduro shipyard was the most attractive of the coal facilities.

Cruise tourism

In 1901 the first cruise ship arrived. It was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise from New York. With the attractive prices of the products in its shops, Curaçao developed into a popular destination for cruise ships. Not all the cruise ships moored in the harbor. The narrow entrance kept many vessels away.
They simply anchored offshore. In 1976, cruise tourism was at its height. However, the steep rise in fuel prices was making sailing from the United States to the Caribbean expensive. After 1976, tourism on Curaçao came increasingly to depend on air traffic.

The Isla refinery

On 31 July 1914, oil was discovered at the Lake of Maracaibo in Venezuela.The Royal Shell Oil Company choose Curaçao as its base. The most important reason was the broad and deep natural harbor. Between 1918 and 1924 a refinery was built with its own wharves in Schottegat. Oil became the engine of Curaçao's economy. In 1914, The Panama Canal opened. Curaçao prepared itself for a flood of trade. However, the expectations did not materialize. It was the oil industry, rather than the Panama Canal that kept Curaçao's economy afloat.
During the Second World War, the Curaçao oil industry flourished as never before. The Allied forces in North Africa depended entirely on fuel, known as 'Navy Special' supplied by the refineries on Curaçao and Aruba. Because of their strategic involvement they became military targets.In December 1941, the United States began reinforcing their position in the Caribbean. The Royal Dutch Navy and the Antilles forces were placed under command of the Americans and American troops were stationed on Curaçao. The Americans were to remain on the island until 1947, when the Dutch administration returned. Since 1950, the defense of the Antilles has been entirely in the hands of the Royal Dutch Navy.
The early 1980s saw a decline in demand for oil. Shell made drastic cuts. Finally, in 1985 the company sold the refinery for a nominal one guilder to Curaçao. The steady decline of the oil industry was a heavy blow to the economy of the island. Now, the refinery is leased by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.


In 1926, the first dock was builtin Willemstad: the floating dry dock Koningin Wilhelmina. It was soon apparent that this was too small. In 1929, capacity was doubled with the arrival of theJuliana Floating Dock. In 1941, the Beatrix Dry Dockwas excavated. It was needed to cope with the wartime demand for dock facilities. In the 1970s, theCuraçaose Dok Maatschappij (CDM)expanded its capacity hugely by building Antillia Dock, a facility capable of handling large ships of up to 130,000 ton.

Harbor administration

In 1960 work in the harbor was reorganized. A new company was set up for the purpose which rented all the wharves and its facilities. Consequently, the organization operated more than 85 percent of the non-oil harbors in Willemstad. Government pressure led eventually to the merger in 1982 into the Curaçao Ports Authority (CPA). The immediate cause was the Curaçao governments wish to achieve an efficient and reliable administration of the harbors of the island, particularly of the new container harbor opened in 1984.
Between 1982 and 1984 the CPA vigorously reorganized the administration of Curaçao's harbors. After this reorganization, Curaçao was able to boast a dynamic, productive and efficient harbor administration. As the islands harbor organization, the Curaçao Ports Services (CPS) took on the principal tasks of handling cargoes and maintaining harbor installations.

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Tuesday to Saturday from
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

During the cruise season the museum may also be opened on Sunday's and Monday's (Nov-Apr).
Call for confirmation.

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