Aung San Suu Kyi

Preacher goes beyond call of mission

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Given the cosmopolitan nature of international shipping, Reverend Peter Ellis is no stranger to political intrigue.

His work as a Mission to Seafarers chaplain has seen him stage several discreet interventions over the years to help worried seafarers jump ship to avoid hotter waters at home.

In 2001, Ellis helped a nephew of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader, flee his Malaysian ship in Hong Kong before being paid off and sent home.

'There was no doubt who's relative he was,' Ellis said. 'His name was Than Win and he looked, sounded and even carried himself like Aung San Suu Kyi ... his problem was that he knew the junta would never let him leave again, ending his career. He had already refused to load certain cargoes for members of the regime and there was word that they were asking about him back at home. He even lived close to Suu Kyi on University Avenue [in Yangon].'

Having found an excuse to get Win ashore shortly before his ship was due to leave, a helpful Hong Kong pilot later turned up with his passport.

With his papers in order, the local office of the United Nations' refugee agency was able to expedite his request for asylum. Reunited with his family, he is now working as a ship surveyor in the United States.

Shortly before taking up his post in Hong Kong, Ellis was serving as port chaplain in the English city of Middlesbrough when he found himself caught up in the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

'Unlike now, it was still the time of the commissar on mainland ships,' he said. 'The radio operator of one mainland ship laid up in port had given his fellow crew a full rundown of events in Beijing via the BBC.

'The commissar had his own version and warned him he would face 10 years' jail on his return.'

The operator jumped ship and lived in Ellis' home to avoid formal immigration detention by the British authorities. Given clearance to stay in Britain, Hong Kong activists spirited out his wife and family.

'I'm happy to say he's running a couple of fish and chip shops in Liverpool ... he got himself and his family on their feet very quickly and has been back to Hong Kong and the mainland. It is amazing how things turn out,' Ellis said.