Pulau Tengah Refugee Camp Malaysia

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Tengah Boat people

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Motor Vessel Supply/Tug Challenge
in the South China Sea, February 3rd - November 5th, 1979

Courtesy of http://webpages.charter.net/jayelder1/VNBPindex.html

Read the Original story here

June 18, 1979, 1300 hours, near the Tapis Oil field - South China Sea

We received 345 refugees from an exploratory drilling rig, Wodeco II, whose crew was unable to stop the refugees from climbing aboard.

June 19, 1979,

The German vessel OSA Jaguar dropped off 18 more refugees to our ship at the orders of my boss. That gave us a total of 363 passengers, with very few resources to care for them.

June 20, 1979, 1000 hours, United Nations Refugee Camp Pulau Tengah Island, Malaysia

We receive radio instructions to get to the United Nations Refugee Camp Pulau Tengah Island. Recent news reports indicate that the Malaysian government will no longer accept any refugees, so I'm concerned about what will happened when we arrive at the island.
We drop anchor at Pulau Tengah Island refugee camp at 0130 hours June 20, 1979, and await further instructions.

The next morning, we have had no word how long this will take and have no idea what is delaying our unloading the refugees.

At 0900 hours, United Nations representatives and Malaysian Federal Police board our ship to count the number of refugees.

June 21-22, 1979, On anchor at Pulau Tengah Island, United Nations Refugee Camp

Still no word from the Malaysian Federal Police or United Nations representatives. I wonder why they have not yet responded to our request for medical help and food.

June 23, 1979, 1210 hours

Finally, the Federal Police and United Nations representatives arrive and notify us that they can receive these refugees and will unload them immediately. I am relieved that the sick will get medical attention and that there will be more food on the island. By 1330 hours, we have everyone transferred ashore.
Many refugees were happy to be aboard a U.S.-flagged ship, as it usually guaranteed entry into the United States. The U.N. representatives told us that it could take six to nine months before the refugees were relocated. They were going to live on this godforsaken island for the next six months waiting for their new life. They were smiling and very thankful for our assistance as they got off the ship. I could not help but wonder how truly horrible the conditions must have been in their home-country to require them to flee into such harsh conditions and giving up everything they owned. I was amazed that life was so "cheap," and that some countries governments would be so ruthless in determining the fate of their own citizens. It makes me really appreciate the freedoms we have in the United States.

June 26-28, 1979

We picked up another 344 refugees on the high seas and took them to the U.N. Refugee Camp at Pulau Tengah Island. Federal Police Chief Desu says they will most probably be taken back out to sea in an old boat and turned loose to face an unknown fate. I could not believe that the Malaysian government would do that. Over the rest of our time in the South China Sea that year, we encountered numerous small boats with refugees aboard. One small craft had only women and children. I asked why they were alone. They told us that pirates had killed the men and some of the women, had robbed them of all their valuables and money, then raped the young women and girls. It was a deeply disturbing thing to see and hear about.

One time,

just after we had loaded some boat people on board our ship, four or five pirate ships appeared and started circling us. It was a very chilling experience; my crew became anxious when they saw the pirates had weapons and appeared to be blood-thirsty. Luckily, I had a shotgun aboard for shooting a messenger line to other vessels. I converted the shells to hold ball-bearings out of the engine room. I waved my shotgun in the air and pointed it at the circling pirate boats hoping to intimidate them into leaving. It was successful, but very nerve-wracking. Here I was aiming a gun at another human being, fully prepared to shoot and kill him. I spent many sleepless nights over the next several years thinking about this summer's events and all that I went through with the refugees. These "adventures" would forever change my way of thinking and how I lived my life.

We made many trips back to Pulau Tengah Island

and the northern Malaysian refugee camp near Terengganu on Pulau Bidong Island. We ended up saving over 2,700 boat people that summer. I earned a few gray hairs in the South China Sea and learned what life is really about, how cheap life can be, and that war is very unforgiving. I also learned that human beings can do amazing things when we reach deep within our souls for a previously unknown strength. I often wonder how my Vietnamese boat people are doing today. When I see people from Asia, I wonder if they might be a person that was on my ship in 1979. I keep the boat people close to my heart and know that they were all given a chance at a far better life. May God continue to bless America and all the disenfranchised people on this earth!
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