slice of life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 February, 2005, 12:00am

From the South China Morning Post this week in 1979

In the early hours of February 6, the Panamanian-registered freighter Skyluck slipped into Hong Kong with 3,000 Vietnamese refugees on board.

The government quickly indicated it had no plans to allow the refugees - 2,500 ethnic Chinese and 500 Vietnamese - ashore.

The captain of the 3,500-tonne ship, Hsiao Hung-din, faced charges other than entering Hong Kong without permission.

Evidence indicated the vessel was trafficking in people.

The ship had taken 27 days to make what should have been a four- to five-day voyage from Singapore.

The captain said he and his crew rescued the refugees from the South China Sea on the sixth day after leaving Singapore. He did not explain where the ship had been in the time between picking up the refugees and arriving in Hong Kong.

During that time, a ship was reported to have dumped more than 600 refugees on an island in the Philippines before Coast Guard vessels interrupted it.

That ship was identified as the Kylu, and there were suspicions it could have been the Skyluck, given the similarity of names and the ease with which the extra letters could have been added or removed.

When the vessel arrived in Hong Kong, police found the name Skyluck on the vessel's bow had been freshly painted.

Gold worth $5 million was found on board another refugee ship, the Huey Fong, which arrived in late December with 3,818 refugees on board.

The gold was found in the ship's engine room and was reported to be what the refugees had paid for their passage to Hong Kong.

It was rolled into thin leaves, weighed about 3,500 taels and was found under the steel flooring of the 2,700-tonne freighter.

It raised to $6.5 million the value of gold found on board.

About $1.5 million in gold, also rolled into thin leaves, was found in the belongings of six refugees as they were disembarking from the ship two weeks earlier.

Several of the refugees admitted they had paid for their passage out of Vietnam.

They claimed the money or gold was paid to organisers in Vietnam to bribe officials and find them junks for a sea escape.

The Huey Fong's 28 crew were confined to the ship and the captain was in custody after having been refused bail.

It was alleged in court that he had approached certain people and asked them not to reveal the true circumstances under which his ship came from Vietnam.

Hsu Wen-hsin, 52, was charged with having on board passengers in excess of the number allowed.

The Taiwanese ship was allowed to carry 39 passengers.

Kuala Lumpur reported that nine Vietnamese refugees drowned near Kuala Trengganu when big waves sank their boat, which was attempting to land on a beach.

And authorities in Sarawak had turned away two boats that tried to land 122 Vietnamese refugees.

Philippine Air Force planes and naval vessels scoured the South China Sea for at least two vessels reportedly trying to dump hundreds of refugees on remote Philippine shores.

The government there was preparing to force another vessel, the Tung An, to sail for Hong Kong, claiming it was the ship's original destination.

And in Macau, a 56-year-old Vietnamese refugee jumped into the harbour in an apparent suicide bid to protest against the decision to bar entry to a group of refugees who arrived in a battered junk.

There were guarded hopes in London that Vietnam, under strong diplomatic pressure over its export of unwanted people, would agree to limit the outflow to 1,000 a month.

This emerged after Britain had delivered a blunt expression of disgust to the Vietnamese ambassador in London over the exodus of ethnic Chinese.

Britain and other western powers were convinced that Vietnam was expelling ethnic Chinese for financial gain.