PacMar Retro: The United Fruit Company Steamer Talamanca

(Left) The United Fruit Company’s Talamanca during her maiden arrival at the Port of Los Angeles on Jan. 13, 1932. (Above) The United Fruit Company steamer Talamanca making her maiden call at the Port of Los Angeles in 1932. United Fruit is now known as Chiquita Brands. Photos: Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Called “the most attractive ship to ever visit the port,” the United Fruit Company’s Talamanca made her maiden arrival at the Port of Los Angeles on Jan. 13, 1932. 

The ship docked at Berth 188 in Wilmington with 100 passengers and 45,000 stems of ‘Grade 9’ bananas, 19,000 of which were discharged at the company’s facility. 

In the years prior to World War II, the port served as the West Coast’s primary unloading spot for bananas shipped from Central America and the Caribbean. In 1937, off-loading at the port using slings and pallets was replaced by specially designed conveyor equipment at Berth 147, which had access for refrigerated rail cars carrying the fruit eastward to markets throughout the U.S. 

The sleek, white-hulled “banana boat” measured 448 feet in length with 245,800 cubic feet of cargo space, and could carry 113 passengers in first-class accommodations. 

Built under the terms of the Jones-White Act of 1928 that offered construction subsidies for ships built with the potential of being used as naval auxiliaries in wartime, the Talamanca was one of several United Fruit steamers pressed into service by the U.S. Navy in 1942. She served in the South Pacific during World War II as a refrigerated stores ship carrying a variety of cargoes from Hawaii and San Francisco to bases scattered from Hawaii to Guam and Iwo Jima. 

Decommissioned in late 1946, she was returned to the United Fruit Company, which operated her until 1958 when she was sold to Elders & Fyffe to sail under the British “Red Duster,” the U.K. civil ensign, as the Sulaco. 

The career of the “most attractive ship to ever visit” the Port of Los Angeles ended in 1964 when she sailed to Bruges, Belgium where she was scrapped.  

USS Talamanca

The cargo ship Talamanca was built in 1931 and initially served as a cargo and passenger liner. In 1941, United Fruit delivered the ship to the U.S. government for service in World War II. It was commissioned the following January and sailed for the first time as a naval vessel in February 1942.

It was decommissioned in 1945 and was fully returned to United Fruit in 1947.

United Fruit Company

The United Fruit Co. was an American multinational corporation that traded in bananas and other tropical fruits that were grown on Latin American plantations and sold in the U.S. and Europe. The company was formed in 1899 from the merger of two smaller fruit importers.

United Fruit flourished in the early and mid-20th century and controlled large territories and transportation networks in Central America, the Caribbean coast of Colombia and the West Indies. The company is now headquartered in Florida and operates under the name Chiquita Brands International. It remains the leading banana distributor in the United States.