Pulau Tengah Refugee Camp Malaysia

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Tengah Boat people

If you stayed in this camp, we need your story. Any information is highly appreciated. If you see it here, we'd still like to hear from you. Corroboration is important. We will always need more information. Please email us at vt268tengah@gmail.com

Story of VT 268


Passengers' stories

From Anna
  • Boat length was 25 meters, width 5.8 meters. Engine was 235 HP. Boat owner was Lam Chi Thanh.
  • April 21, 1979 at 3:00pm VT268 left Vung Tau, Vietnam with 529 souls aboard
  • April 23, 8 year child old died, was buried at sea.
  • April 24, VT268 arrived at Nenasi Village, Pehang, Malaysia. Local officials demanded $5000 USD to allow us to land; $3000 was paid by Lam CHi Thanh. Refugees were kept in the fenced-in yard of an unused school near the village
  • May 18, About 11:00 Am, the local police chief told us to clean up and prepare to go to a refugee camp. We all protested and did not move; we feared they would tow us out to sea. A Caucasian man stopped his car near the gate. We could not approach him, so we shouted together, "VT268, 529 people need help!" Later we learned the man was Mr Leonard Hanssen (UNHCR).
  • May 19, after the police chief agreed to split us into 2 groups, we headed back to VT 268. A Malaysia navy P34 towed VT268 out to sea with 379 of us aboard. The rest were to wait for VT268 to return; navy had claimed they were taking us to a refugee camp.
  • After towing us into the open sea for 16 hours, the Malaysia navy P34 abandoned us. We drifted south without navigation equipment(compass and maps had been taken by police, and we had minimal water & fuel). Met a Thai fishing boat after about 3 hours; they gave us some food and directions toward Singapore.
  • May 21, 10 am arrived Pulau Aur, state of Johor Baru. We tried to reach the island and scuttle the boat before police came; boat didn't sink quickly enough. By about 6pm police had moved us to a village on the other side of the island
  • May 22, Police towed VT 268 to the village. We stayed on the ground in front of the island police station.
  • May 24, we arrived at Mersing on another refugee boat. We camped next to the harbor on a soccer field. Another group of refugees were already there. One Chinese businessman named "Chan Tan" donated plastic sheets and aluminium containers. He said he visited every week to help refugees waiting to go to Pulau Tengah.
  • May 24, A refugee from our boat gave birth to a baby in Mersing hospital
  • May 26,1979 We were admitted to Pulau Tengah refugee camp
  • The fate of 142 people who remained at Nenasi:
  • May 20, police transferred them to the beach near Kwantan
  • May 22, police forced 94 people onto an Unnumbered boat and 48 people into MH 3688 (re-used refugee boat). Navy boat towed both of them toward the sea
  • May 24, Navy released MH 3688, continued towing Unnumbered boat
  • May 24, MH3688 rescued by oil ship
  • May 25, MH3688 arrived to Mersing and occupants waited for transport to Pulau Tengah.
  • May 30, Unnumbered boat arrived Sedili vilage
  • June 07, Malaysian police took them to Mersing
  • Aug 18, They were towed to sea again
  • Aug 21, They arrived on an unknown island near Desaru.
  • Aug 25, Desaru Police took them to Mersing; this time they met people from MH3688 in the same camp, and they were transferred to Pulau Tengah
  • Remaining 8 people: fate unknown
map to freedom
From Tai Lu

Since you mentioned about self-defence, I can't help but comparing that half-naked fisherman who grabbed the helm from our skipper (see note 1) with those so-called Malaysian police in Nenasi.

When we first landed on the beach of Nenasi, our valuable belongings were robbed by the 'police' conducting a 'security search' in daylight, my uncle tried in vain to protect his Nikon camera and they just yanked it out from him. Through out the following weeks isolated in that schoolyard, we survived mainly on the meagre food stock carried over from our own boat, the only 'food' supplied by the locals was several stingrays! For years I have pondered why these thugs had allowed us to stay only to have towed us back out to sea, it'd puzzled me until I read your log. In my view, they had no intension to allow us into UN camp by accepting Lam's cash, we had basically made ourselves witness of a bribery, so to conceal their crime, they used weeks of isolation and starvation to weaken our possible resistance when we're shoved back to boats, rip the navigation equipment off our boat and tow us out to sea was an act of eliminating evidence and the ultimate slaughter.

For all counts, many of the 'pirates' around that time in that region were actually fishermen, they just took advantage of our helpless refugees as prey & side income. I was resting in a crawl space behind the bridge when that fisherman shoved our skipper aside and took over his helm, not that he's half-naked, I remember his colourful head wrap & arm wrap very well. As you said, our skipper's not alone, he was surrounded by young sailors, but no one came to his aid. To me it wasn't an helping hand initially 'cause that fisherman's rude action had revealed his real intention. Fortunately, according to Mr. Lam, captain of that fishing boat was from the same root as Lam (người Tiều Châu ), therefore they agreed to do us no harm and traded water/fuel with Lam's gold, to this day I feel really blessed, although my own inaction at that moment has bothered me for years.

I have verified one thing with my uncle's family, there were a small group of refugees from a sunken boat from Rạch Giá had joined us in Nenasi a few days after our arrival, I personally spoke to some of them, regrettably I don't recall what their boat number or names are, they're flushed out of the schoolyard together with us, that would make the total number of people with unknown fate to more than 8 as mentioned in your story.

- Note 1: Our skipper is a Japanese by origin, his name is TAKE, pronounce in VN as 'Tha Khe', a close friend and drinking buddy of my uncle back in chợ lớn. We lived across the 'road' from each other on the northern island after arriving in Tengah, I remember the NHK sent a TV team to Tengah and conducted an interview for him after the news had broken out, quite a side note.

- Note 2: Not all were shipped out to the other side of Pulau Aur by the evening of May 21, I was among several dozens stranded on the beach without a boat ride, we're told the only way to get to the village was hiking across the mountain, so we did, led by several locals and our own relief helmsman, a young & muscular ex-navy, we stopped partway 'cause of darkness and slept on a cliff overnight and finally reached the village the next day.

Finding you & your site have recalled many of my flashback, I'm glad to log down these pieces of memory before they all fade away

From Son tran

map to freedom

Attached is a good picture of VT268 boat. My mom bought this picture while we lived on the beach.

I was an Amerisan on KG009 which we was deliberately sank in order to be rescue by a merchant ship. I was 7 years old however my memory is very vivid to as what had happened and all the horror which had taken place on and off the boat.

My mom sold some of her Jewelry to purchase that picture while we were on the island (Mersing?). She bought the picture a local photographer as a keep sake.

This picture was taken right after we got on the island. I think they moved the boat right after this picture was taken

Submit by Son Tran. Thank you so much
View passengers photos of VT268
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