Down the Persian Gulf, past the sandy, heat-shimmering wastes of southern Arabia, a grubby tanker plowed. It was tiny (632 tons) and slow (7.5 knots), but last week the Rose Mary was the most celebrated oil tanker in the world.
As the Rose Mary, bound for Italy, neared the British colonial port of Aden, a strange battle took place on board between two crackling wireless receivers. Over one radio, Shipowner Nicolo Rizzi from Italy ordered Captain Giuseppe Jafrate to put in at Aden. Over the other, Italian Count Ettore della Zonca, who had chartered the ship, exhorted: "Go ahead! The world is watching you."
Eagle-beaked Count della Zonca, an old hand at finding oil in troubled waters, had launched his Italian Middle East Oil Co. in 1938 by buying half a million tons of oil expropriated by Mexico. When Iran expropriated the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. last year, he got busy again, signed a ten-year agreement to barter Italian manufactures for Iranian oil.
Only the British stood in the way. Anglo-Iranian had warned potential buyers that they would be prosecuted for dealing in stolen property. All major oil companies joined in boycotting a nation which broke its contract. But not Della Zonca. Hearing of his deal, the British protested without success to Italy, and then with success to the Rose Mary's owner.
Sixty miles off Aden, Skipper Jafrate's dilemma ended. A hurrying tug drew alongside, bearing a representative of Owner Rizzi. The Rose Mary obediently turned and headed for Aden. The British-trained police came aboard, sealed the tanks containing 780 tons of oil, and an Aden court injunction backed them up.
The strange voyage of the Rose Mary was over; the first attempt to break the British blockade around Iran had failed.