By the end of 1978, there were nearly 62,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in camps throughout Southeast Asia. As the numbers grew, so too did local hostility. Adding to the tension was the fact that several of the boats arriving on the shores of countries in Southeast Asia were not small wooden fishing craft but steel-hulled freighters chartered by regional smuggling syndicates and carrying over 2,000 people at a time. -TIME magazine, Dec. 04, 1978
The 1500-tonnne m.v. Hai Hong was an old coastal vessel and a regular caller at Port Klang until one fateful night 30 years ago on November 9th 1978, when arriving at the southern pilot station, the ship's master coolly radioed my Pilot Office for permission to proceed in on her own and anchor in the harbour.
It was fortunate then that one of the office staff remembered reading in the newspapers that the vessel had been sighted at sea a few days earlier off the east coast, filled to the brim with refugees. He promptly ordered the ship to anchor near Pulau Pintu Gedung at the southern approaches of the port. There was also no advice from her local agents, so the police, immigration, customs, harbour master and port health authorities were quickly alerted.
The ship remained outside port limits under heavy guard for a few months while the Malaysian government decided what to do with the 2500-odd Vietnamese refugees living in very cramped and deplorable conditions aboard the tiny vessel. Food, water and medicine often ran short of supply and diseases were rampant.
After initially ordering the vessel to go back to wherever she came from, it was only due to representations from UNHCR and after the United States' Carter administration and a few other countries agreed to resettle them all that the refugees were finally brought ashore by the authorities. They were taken to a makeshift and fenced-in camp in Cheras, along the new north-south highway, which had been specially built for the purpose. From here, they were all then flown directly to the USA and elsewhere in small batches, but only after long drawn-out processes which took many months.
Meanwhile, the Hai Hong was brought in to anchor in North Shore at the entrance to the South Port where she remained for some time after the owners and crew had abandoned her. Tenders were out to auction and salvage her for scrap but there were no takers. The ship was subsequently towed and anchored at a site out of the way of shipping traffic, off Pulau Tonggok in Selat Lumut near the new bridge to Pulau Indah and leading to West Port and the Port Klang Free Zone. There she remained for a few years until one day she took in water and sank, very slowly, into her watery grave and disappeared completely from view.
I hear the site is now a favourite spot for weekend anglers in Port Klang.
P.S.: Sorry folks, but I was getting a bit cheesed off with the turn of events in the local socio-political scene that I decided to write about something else instead in the meantime ...
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