Story from the book "Pirates_in_the_gulf_of_Siam by Tien Phuc Thuy"
Here are barebones summaries of a few pirate encounters:
First incident: 87 People killed. Witness Ms Nguyen Thi Phuong. Boat number #SS0640 IA, carrying 107 people, left Rach Gia on Dec 1, 1979. On the third day, they encountered pirates.
The refugee boat was so crowded, pirates moved 27 people to the pirate boat, creating space to search and rob all the refugees. Pirates then towed the refugee boat at full speed in a circle, causing the refugee boat to sink. The eighty souls aboard drowned. Pirates took the 27 survivors to Koh Kra; as they approached the island
they shoved the men overboard, forcing them to attempt to swim ashore. Seven of the men drowned. On the 8th day at Koh Kra island, Mr Schweitzer (UNHCR) came to take the refugees to the mainland. During the 8 days on the island, the refugees were tortured and questioned repeatedly, as several pirate gangs landed each day. The women tried to hide in the jungle or on the mountain, but they were unable to elude the pirates.
Second Incident: 70 People killed. Witness Vu Zuy Thai. Boat number VNKG 0980, carrying 120 people, left Rach Gia on Dec 29, 1979. On Dec 31 a pirate boat, orange-red in color with number 128 on the bow, rammed the refugee boat, cracking it. The pirates disabled the refugees' engine and enlarged the crack, so water poured in. After robbing the refugees the pirates left, taking the pretty girls with them.
About 50 people hung on to the pirate boat when their boat started sinking. The pirates left the survivors on Koh Kra. On the night of Jan 1, 1980 A Thai navy boat number (# 18) came to Koh Kra. The navy men forced all the refugees to strip and stand naked. After observing the naked refugees, the navy men left. On Jan 2 another navy boat, #17, visited the island. They forced the female refugees to publicly strip and stand naked, then searched them before returning to their boat. Navy boat #17 remained nearby until January 4, when they left. While the navy boat was present, the pirates were nowhere to be seen. As soon as the navy boat left, 4 pirate boats came to island, but there was nothing left to take. They took turns raping the women in public, among the victims’ friends and families.
Five girls were gang raped: KH 15 years old, BT 17, AH 12, HY 11 and MT 15. On the 5th day, Mr Schweitzer arrived with police boat and rescued the suffering refugees.
Third incident: Pirates sold girls into prostitution. Witness Miss Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet, 17. An unmarked junk 10 m long and carrying 78 people left Nha Trang on Dec 8, 1979. After 3 days at sea, they ran out of fuel and food and their boat drifted for 10 days on the high seas. Twelve children died. On Dec 21 they met 2 pirate boats. The pirates forced all the refugees onto their ship. A pregnant woman was beaten to death because she was unable to stand. Pirates searched the refugees and their boat thoroughly, even prying up planks where they thought likely hiding places for valuables might be. The refugees were abused, and the survivors left on Koh Kra. The next day 2 more pirate boats came to rob abuse the surviving refugees. This time, the three prettiest girls were taken away. Miss Anh Tuyet and My Kieu were put aboard a boat skippered by a pirate named Samsac.
Miss Lan went on the other boat, and no one knows what has become of her. Samsac took Tuyet and Kieu to Songkhla, and kept them in a hotel. Tuyet was held under guard by a man named Biec, while Kieu was kept in another room with Samsac. According to Miss Tuyet’s account, she screamed when Biec tried to rape her. This disturbed people staying in adjacent rooms (mostly Westerners), who came to rescue her. Biec fled. Samsac fled with My Kieu in the midst of the chaos, and took her to another hotel in Hat Yai.
Miss Tuyet led police to the dock where Samsac's boat was still moored. Eventually the crew was arrested, including Samsac himself. They confessed that they had intended to sell the girls in the red light district of town.
In the first six months of 1981, there were 701 pirates’ attacks on the boat people and more than 145 reported kidnapping cases. One of the survivors in Songkhla Refugee Camp is Ms. Nguyễn Phương Thúy, aged 15. Her baby sister named Trân and she left Vietnam with 66 others on a 33-feet-long boat on May 19, 1981. Forty hours later, the boat was savagely raided by Thai buccaneers. After taking all valuables from the refugees and seizing Ms. Nguyễn and another female, the pirates steered their huge ship to slam into the small Vietnamese craft and killed all people remaining on board including little Trân. During the following 3 ½ months, Ms. Nguyễn and the other woman were held captive as sex slaves and were repeatedly raped everyday. The kidnappers then sold them to other Thai ships in exchange for fishes; the victims were changed hands at least 14 times.
Eventually, the 15th ship dumped them on a beach where they were subsequently arrested and held by Thai authorities as illegal aliens. In prison, Ms. Nguyễn met another unfortunate female victim named Nguyễn Thị Lan, aged 25, who was also kept as a sex slave on an island off the coast of Thailand for many days. After her release to Songkhla Refugee Camp, because of her dire experience, Ms. Nguyễn wrote letters home to plead with her mother and aunts not to leave Socialist Vietnam by boat. Ironically, Ms. Nguyễn Phương Thúy was prohibited by Thai authorities - supposedly implementing an anti-piracy program at that time - to speak to reporters about her dreadful journey.
We do not know how many young Vietnamese girls and women were kidnapped by the pirates, but we can be certain that the number is horrendous. Among the victims known to have disappeared in their request for freedom are Tăng Bích Hằng, Nguyễn Thị Thu Nguyệt, Phạm Ngọc Bích Thủy, Võ Thị Cẩm Nhung, Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Dung, Phạm Thị Ngọc Bích, Phạm Thị Ngọc Hạnh, Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Anh, Diệp Mỹ Linh, Nguyễn Thị Hiền, Hoàng Thị Kim Chi and Hoàng Thị Kim Dung, Quách Lê Nương, Lê Thị Kim Hồng, Huỳnh Kim Phụng, Ðinh Thị Như, Nguyễn Thị Ðắc Tâm, Nhữ Thị Thiên Kim, Vũ Thị Thanh Thảo, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, Ðặng Thị Quỳnh Hoa, Ðặng Thị Quỳnh Như, Tiến Xuân Mai, Nguyễn Thị Cẩm Hồng, Bửu Nghị Liêu, Ðỗ Hoàng Dung, Vũ Xuân Phụng, Nguyễn Diễm Hương, Võ Thị Tuyết, Bảo Trân, Tạ Thị Kim Hoàn, Trần Mỹ Hằng, Lệ Nguyễn Trúc Mai, Phạm Thị Sương Liễu, Phạm Thị Trúc Ly, Phạm Thị Ngọc Luyện, Châu Yến Linh, Trần Bích Thủy, Trần Thị Mỹ, Ngô Thị Liễu, Tống Mỹ Hạnh, Nguyễn Thị Kiều Dung, Nguyễn Thị Kiều Phương, etc.
Once the helpless refugees were taken to Khra Island, all buccaneers quickly learned about the presence of the new prisoners from radioed information sent by the kidnappers. Thereafter, several fishing ships stopped by the isle daily to rape the women and young girls; some of these victims just turned eleven or twelve years old. As soon as the captive refugees saw the pirates’ colorful ships appearing on the skyline, they fled and tried to hide themselves in cages or bushes. They were terrified by the daily atrocious conducts, and thus many went deep into the wood to avoid the bandits. Others hid themselves in small caves filled with salt water; their feet were nipped by sea crabs, but they had to swallow the pains because they feared the pirates more than anything else on earth. When the brutal fishermen came to the isle, they quickly turned into savage man hunters. They searched the wood and tortured the unlucky victims to find out others’ whereabouts. The cycle of violence and rapes reoccurred once again.
The Koh Khra incidents were many and well-documented. In one case, Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Thưởng and her family left on boat no. SS0640 IA on December 1, 1979. The vessel carrying 107 people was robed by Thai pirates, who then took the victims to Koh Khra. The men were forced to swim to shore from a far distance, and 7 of them consequently drowned. During their 8-day ordeal on the island, the women were raped and the men were tortured repeatedly. On the 3rd day, a patrol boat no. POLICE#513 anchored a few meters from shore and noticed their loud call for help but did not respond. The pirates came back the following days and continued their savage attack on the captive refugees. Eventually, the unfortunate victims were rescued by a UNHCR team and transferred to Songkhla Refugee Camp in Thailand.
The worst atrocities committed by pirates on the Gulf of Thailand may never be known. The most pitiful victims probably have been silenced forever.
These are the women who have been abducted and held as sex slaves, either to be passed among fishing boats on the high seas or to be sold to brothels in southern Thailand.Their number is unknown.
Members of San Jose's Vietnamese Women's Association, which has been collecting money for a campaign to locate missing women, estimate that as many as 3,500 women have been abducted over the past 12 years. And they say many of those women must still be living in bondage.
The refugees who did not perish on Koh Kra or were traficked to prostituion were eventually - often after several weeks of continuous terror - rescued from the island and taken to the Thai mainland.
Most of the rescue operations were led by the UNHCR's field officer, Theodore Schweitzer, sometime with the assistance of the Thai police. Schweitzer first arrived in Koh Kra in mid 1979, and he then found evidence everywhere of earlier attacks against
the refugees, including warning messages written in Vietnamese on navigational structures, letters warning of rape and abductions and dead bodies. Between the last months of 1979 and first month of 1982, Schweitzer made at least two dozen return trips to Koh Kra saving 1,250 refugees.
In Nov 1979, the testimonies of the group of refugees to which Nhat Tien belonged led to the arrest of a group of seven pirates in Pak Phanang in Southern Thailand.
In the nearby district capital of Nakhon Si Thammarat, moreover, another group of seven alleged pirates were arrested for taking part in gang rapes on Koh Kra. The latter group was recognised by their victims as they crewed a small trawler hired by the police to evacuate the refugees from Koh Kra.
According to Nhat Tien, the arrest of the Pak Phanang group was made after the pirates happened to be sighted and recognised when they passed by the place where the refugees were staying. Both during the police investigation and the subsequent trial, the refugees, who according to Thai law were not allowed to be plaintiffs
but were instead called as witnesses, were subjects of threats, harassment and attempts of bribery, both by officials and by relatives of the accused pirates, to force them withdraw their testimonies.
Meanwhile,the pirates continued to roam the Gulf of Thailand and new group of refugees were taken to Koh Kra to be terrorised.
One of the few is Ted Schweitzer, a 44-year-old American who, by his own count, rescued more than 1,200 refugees from pirates -- and was banned by the Thai government for his trouble. Some of Schweitzer's heroics are difficult to document because those who witnessed them were either pirates or refugees who have since disappeared into the anonymity of new lives in far away places. But interviews with people who worked with Schweitzer or were helped by him revealed nothing that contradicts the assessment of Nguyen Huu Xuong, director of the Boat People SOS Committee in San Diego: "He's a fantastic man."
In one celebrated case, nineteen brave boat persons, namely Dr. Dương Chi Lăng, Trần Xuân Vinh, Lê Quang Phương, Hứa Thiện Hùng, Âu Diêu, Khuất Há Chảy, Ðoàn Văn Khuyên, Trịnh Duy Phước, Hồ Minh Tâm, Châu Chí Cường, Huỳnh Công Danh, Nguyễn Anh Lợi, Trần Khắc Ðức, Huỳnh Quốc Tuấn, Quan Chí Cường, Huỳnh Trưng Thuần, Trần Chánh Thành, Lê Văn Uyên, Dương Hán Minh, fought back and took over the ship of Thai pirates, who robbed them, raped the women and drowned their boat. Ironically, when they reported the brutal pirates' attack to the Thai authorities, they were indicted by Bangkok on murder charges and then imprisoned. International outcry over the charges, particularly from the French media, Association d’Aides des Réfugiés d’Asie and Médecins Sans Frontières, pressured the Thai government into releasing the detained boat people in December 1981. One of the incarcerated Asylees, Mr. Lê Văn Uyên, would have died from an ulcer if he was not discharged on time and carried by ambulance to a nearby hospital for immediate medical attention.
The pirates operated mostly in an 18,000-squared-mile area surrounding Songkhla, a Thai southern province. Bangkok had only two old coastguard ships to patrol this entire area, and thus the region was virtually a no-man territory. In September 1981, the West German ship Cap Anamur intercepted and stopped a group of 5 Thai ships that were robbing a Vietnamese boat carrying 95 people. The boat was just about 100 miles from Cape Cà Mau when its engine broke down. The craft floated aimlessly for two days before it was seized by Thai pirates, who moved 33 children and 22 women over to one of their ships and towed the Vietnamese craft with 40 men on board to an undetermined destination. The buccaneers then searched the refugees and confiscated all gold pieces and valuables. Fortunately, before the pirates could do physical damages to the Asylees, the Cap Anamur came on scene and freed the boat people under attack. Various reports were filed with the local authorities concerning the robbery but nothing happened to the Thai fishermen.
The author, a refugee at age 14, demonstrated to the international rescue team how he was tied by pirates in the Gulf of Thailand. Resettled in Canada in early 1980, Lloyd Duong completed graduate business and legal studies while founding the Vietnamese University Students' Federation of Ontario (VNUSFO) and organizing many activities such as the VNUSFO's summer camps and mass demonstrations in support of Vietnamese asylum-seekers. After spending several years in private and public sectors in positions ranging from Analyst - Economic Forecast and Financial Planning to Crown Prosecutor, L. Duong is presently a defense attorney who divides his time between academic research in Boston and legal duties in Toronto. He has published several researches including International Trade and Developing Nations, Western Political Ideas, and Eastern Political Philosophy.