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SS Columbia Eagle incident

The SS Columbia Eagle incident occurred during the Vietnam War when sailors aboard an American merchant ship mutinied and hijacked the ship to Cambodia.

On 14 March 1970 two American merchant marine sailors, Clyde McKay and Alvin Glatkowski, using guns they had smuggled aboard, seized control of their ship, SS Columbia Eagle, in the first armed mutiny aboard an American ship in 150 years. The ship was carrying napalm to the US Air Force bases in Thailand for use in the Vietnam War.

The mutineers claimed that there was a live bomb on board the ship, and forced the captain to order 24 of the crewmen to abandon ship in the lifeboats. The ship's cargo, 3500 500-pound bombs and 1225 750-pound bombs, gave this threat credibility.

The merchant ship Rappahanock picked up the lifeboats and crew members and broadcast the news of the mutiny. The amphibious transport dock USS Denver was diverted to intercept Columbia Eagle.

With only 13 crewmen remaining onboard besides themselves, the mutineers sailed into Cambodian waters, where they assumed they would be welcomed as heroes. They anchored within the 12-mile territorial limit claimed by Cambodia on the afternoon of 15 March.

At 0951 on 16 March, Denver anchored 15.6 miles from the coast in the Gulf of Siam, remaining outside Cambodian waters. The US Coast Guard cutter Mellon joined shortly thereafter with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, as senior officer present. Two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters landed on Denver from bases in Vietnam to assist in visual surveillance. Meanwhile, the mutineers had turned the ship over to Prince Norodom Sihanouk's government, declared themselves anti-war revolutionaries, and were granted asylum.

On 17 March, the helicopters were detached and Denver, with Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven, departed for Singapore, passing on-scene command to Mellon.

On 18 March at 0636 Denver reversed her course; Prince Sihanouk had been deposed by a coup led by the pro-Western Sirik Matak and Lon Nol. If the Cambodians could be persuaded to release Columbia Eagle, Denver's flight deck could help the rescued crew members rejoin their ship. The coup was unfortunate for McKay and Glatkowski; they had hoped to find asylum in a Communist country; instead, they became prisoners of the Phnom Penh regime. At 2359 on 18 March, Denver anchored in the Gulf of Siam 17.0 miles from the coast of Cambodia.

Sihanouk, now in exile, charged that the CIA had masterminded the mutiny to deliver weapons to Lon Nol. Both the mutineers and U.S. officials denied his charges, but the damage was done; no Communist forces would shelter them now that the suspicion that they were CIA stooges had been created.

When it became clear that Columbia Eagle's release was not imminent, Denver was detached to proceed to Da Nang.

Almost three weeks elapsed before Columbia Eagle was allowed to leave. She was taken to Subic Bay where her crew was reunited and her cargo was delivered to Thailand by another vessel.

After months of imprisonment, Glatkowski was extradited to the United States to face trial. He was charged with mutiny, kidnapping, assault and neglect of duty, convicted, and served his sentence.

McKay escaped from his captors along with a U.S. Army deserter, Larry Humphrey, and sought out the Khmer Rouge. He was officially declared missing on 4 November 1970 and has never been located.


The article contains information from the book The Eagle Mutiny and from USS Denver's Web site,, as well as numerous minor sources.