Seamen rescued from base

A HONG Kong-based ship slipped past a cordon of Chinese gunboats yesterday to rescue six seamen stranded for a month on a mainland naval base.

One of the seamen, chief engineer Maung Kyaw Aung, needed urgent medical attention for severe stomach cramps he had suffered since his freighter Belinetta ran aground on Baili Island during Typhoon Koryn last month.

After weeks of unsuccessful negotiations to get a Hong Kong salvage tug or launch to risk a rescue in restricted Chinese military waters, the vessel's Hong Kong agent finally ordered its sister ship to mount a rescue from China.

Gunboats surrounded the Fairwind to keep it from getting too close to the naval base in the Wanshan group of islands 30 kilometres south of Lantau.

A Chinese naval ferry carried the six Burmese seamen to their rescuers, but the captain and two crew members remained to keep watch on the submerged hull of the Belinetta for insurance reasons.

A spokesman for the agent said the whole operation had been conducted without proper authority due to fears that China would detain the crew if the plight became ''official''.


''The Chinese Navy just wanted our men off the island, so they didn't give us too much trouble,'' he said.

Some of the crew had been detained on the ship in Zhuhai earlier this year after Public Security Bureau officers seized the vessel.

Mr Maung said he was separated from his fellow crew and taken to another island for treatment in a clinic.

''I just wanted to go home. They did what they could for me, putting me on a drip, but no one knew what was wrong.


''They kept on telling me that I should go to Hong Kong, but no one knew what to do. There were no telephones and they radioed a helicopter once but it never came,'' he said.

''I was in too much pain to think, and I had all these bad dreams.'' Meanwhile, Second Office Maung Oo Sein said the Chinese Navy treated his men ''with respect'', feeding them three meals a day and allowing them to stay in an old hostel.


''We knew it was a naval base, but they didn't want us to see anything so they kept us out the back in this hostel,'' he said.

''We couldn't understand why no one would come, but all we could do was talk and smoke their cigarettes.

''They knew it was an emergency so that's why they were good to us for once.''