Your story

May 8th 1980

In route from Singapore to Hong Kong on board the Container ship Alva Maersk belonging to Maersk Line In Copenhagen.

My name is Poul Buchholz Hansen, I was signed on as Chief Officer on Alva Maersk.
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We were off the coast of Vietnam, the time was approx. 0827, my watch was ending at 0830, the 2nd officer was up on the bridge, and when I took a last glance around the horizon just before handing over the watch then I observed a small boat in distress.

People stood there waving a red flag, I presumed it was boat refugees who were in the boat.

Quite right, when we came closer we saw that it was a small boat which was overcrowded with children and adults.

The Vietnamese boat refugees were gradually sailing all the way out to the sailing routes ships would pass either on way to Singapore or on their way north.

The small boat with 64 persons onboard
The small boat with 64 persons onboard

In the past we sailed much closer to the coast of Vietnam when we sailed south.

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But now there were so many boat refugees  that we were passing farther out.

There was no one who directly gave us orders to sail further out.

But the shipping company suggested we sailed with more distance from the coast of Vietnam.

When we stopped Alva Maersk then we could see that there were approximately 60-70 people in the small boat, a mixture of children and adults.

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 We helped them up on board, and it turned out they were 64 people in the boat, many were exhausted by the harrowing trip.

They were all accommodated in the gymnasium which was big enough to accommodate all of them.

We had 4 toilets they could use and in the hospital which was empty, they could take a bath and tidy themselves up.

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The chef immediately started making some food for them they had rice with vegetables, something that everyone could withstand.

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 Not long after they had finished their meal I was called to the gym, there was a boy i5-6 years of age who had stomach ache.

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When I asked him how much he had eaten, all the others started laughing.

 It turned out that he had eaten more than the adults, approximately. 3-4 plates of rice, He was hungry, he told.

I could only find that his stomach ache would probably pass over after a while, I did not dare to give him any medicine.

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the woman who arranged for the list to be written.

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One of the adults promised to keep in mind that he did not eat too much next time.

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The skipper came to me, absolutely crazy, He told that the authorities was demanding a list of all boat refugees with names , etc., before we could get permission to enter the port of Hong Kong. 

I promised to acquire such a list within 30 minutes time, a list that could be sent to the immigration authorities in Hong Kong. 

At that time there were daily boat refugees arriving in Hong Kong, many refugees came every single day,  so in Hong Kong, the authorities knew the procedures.

I went down to gym and explained about the list that should be written.

A woman who spoke excellent English told that she could easily arrange for such a list to be written.  

She said a few words in Vietnamese, and immediately everyone stood in rows.

A row for each family, everyone stood right, and the children were completely stiff in the face. 

It was openly something that they understood and had tried before.

It did not last long before the woman could hand in a written list with all the names, overall family for family.

I think it took about 40 minutes before I handed over the list to the skipper, Helge Holm, he was called the skipper.

It was equally good as he said, He had obviously thought it would take longer to finish the list.

The Stewardesses who were on board at that time did a great job, in order for the boat refugees to live roughly while they were on board. 

It was sad to look at people who had to flee from their own country, it made us all  pain to watch.

Amongst there was a father alone with three small children.

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The others told that the mother who should have been with have been lost under way to the boat.

She had not arrived at the boat at the agreed time, so the others had to leave.

What had happened to the mother no one could disclose.

At a later date, an inventory was made in France where it was estimated that approx. 50% of all boat refugees could not be accounted for.

When we arrived in Hong Kong, refugees were locked into the gym because if someone somebody was missing when immigration arrived.

They were driven in a bus directly to a collection camp, but not before they had been sprayed with a detergent agains head lice.

Spraying took place in the gym before leaving the room, it smelled terrible and was very difficult to get cleaned. 

All blankets and the like we thrown out to avoid being infected with something.

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“Instant report of the incident.”

“Thursday, May  8th, 1980 at. About 0827 I observed a fishing boat on port side in Position approx. 07 degrees 43’ north, 108 degrees 33’ east, as the boat had a strange form, I took my binoculars and then inspected more carefully what kind of boat it was.

It turned out that the strange shape emerged from the fact that there were a lot of people standing and waving their arms.

On the roof stood one a waving a flag.

I warned the captain.

We turned the ship around and when we got closer we could see they waved with the International Emergency Flag NC.

There seemed to be about 50 people aboard the little fishing boat that had rigged networks alongside.

Probably because they should not fall out of the boat.

We stopped the engine and came up alongside of the boat that had No. KG0095TH.

We assessed the boat for approx. 10 m long, approx. 20 tons. 

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It turned out that the people were Vietnamese refugees who asked to be brought along.

They first asked where we came from, they were clearly nervous that we were Russians.

They said the Russians sent refugees back to Vietnam.

We lowered the port side gangway off so that they could come onboard.

On the deck of the boat lay some women and children, they were so fed up with sea sickness and exhaustion that they should be asked to get up.

They were too dull to really understand anything.

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I stood at the end of the gangway to help them on board. 

The 2.Nd officer stood up on the deck to examine them for weapons.

At about  0900 hours, all refugees were on board. 

I went down into the boat with one of the Vietnamese to take the bottom plug out of the boat.

We could not find any bottom plug, with there were a lot of different tools in the boat.

The Vietnamese took a hammer and a Chisel and made a big hole in the bottom of the boat.

While the Vietnamese person made the hole in the boat, I investigated what other things was in the boat. 

It turned out that the escape had been carefully planned, because the boat was equipped with a large interior engine and a large outboard engine.

One could see that they had a lot of spare fuel in the bins.

The NC Signal flags were brand new.

In addition, there were 5 pieces emergency missiles as well as instruction in semaphore signaling in the wheelhouse. 

The boat had a small compass, as well as a sail chart covering the river delta at Saigon, or Ho-Chi-Min as it is called now, as well as another drawn map of the Singapore-Vietnam area. 

Showing what courses should be maintained to get to the routes followed by 

the big ships.

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At about 0917 we could continue the journey to Hong Kong .

 “Unquote “

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It later turned out that approx. 33 of the Vietnamese boat refugees came to Denmark, a country they had not heard of before. 

I later received a letter from 30 of the boat refugees in which they thanked all involved for the rescue

They waited with writing until they could express themselves in Danish.

The letter is reproduced in full. (and translated as lovingly as possible)

Aarhus on 10 December 1980

Dear Mr. Hansen
We are some of the 64 Vietnamese who were saved by you and Your sailor corps the 8/5 1980 in South China Sea.

For 3 months we were temporarily living in Hong Kong.

We settled down in Aarhus 4 months ago.

The others have settled in Other countries: America, West Germany and Canada.

We would like to write a letter to you to inform you as soon as we arrived in Denmark.

But we would not like to write in Vietnamese or other languages, therefore, we waited for a day when we could write in Danish to inform you, and we sincerely thank you for your salvation.

Here we have our very complete life.

Danish refugee care is very large, and we, who have no country, do not have any less-favored-mindedness anymore.

We are going to school to learn Danish, and we also try to get acquainted with the lives of Danes although there are some different customs in Europe and Asia.

We would like to learn Danish quickly to work and have an independent life, because we know that the dance people reduced their rations to help us.

We are very touched by the friendly help.

We are very happy to live in a country who is full of love for humanity.

It was our wish when we fled out of our country.

Although we also knew that there were many dangers that might have been waiting for us, to be caught or shot by Communist soldiers, or maybe meeting pirates or getting lost to some islands where people do not live or our little boat might sink down etc.

But we accepted all the dangers for just to find freedom

We would like to tell you an ancient history from China.

Once in the old days a philosopher went past a big forest with his students.

He saw a woman who sat on the ground and cried.

He stopped and asked her “why are you crying”

The woman replied, “My son was just eaten by a tiger, and last month my husband was also eaten by the tiger.

I do not know when the tiger will eat me?

The philosopher asked, “Why do not you move to a city?”

I would rather live here and accept a death than live in the town where an official is cruelly ruling, she replied.

The philosopher turned around and told his students, A cruel ruler is more terrible than a wild tiger.

Truly, there is no freedom and human rights in Vietnam, there is only a dictatorial regime.

Vietnamese people do not know anything about the world anymore.

The mouth and ears were closed on them and they were tied to their eyes by Vietnamese Communists.

Vietnamese Communists pulled back peoples progress, killing thousands of troubled minds in disgusting wars, built thousands of prisons, buried thousands of people on the bottom of the ocean, and separated thousands of families.  Men and wives, parents and children, and siblings etc.

It is Vietnamese Communist Criminals, like all the best people in the world, should judge.

We lived again when you saved us.

We will always be very grateful to you.

We live in Denmark and we are very touched by the Danish peoples sincere help.

We shall never forget them.

We are always ready to do something that the Danish government asks us for.

We also ask You to save Vietnam boat refugees who you meet at the sea because they are people who love freedom.

Many kind regards from 33 Vietnamese people

I have tried to translate as well as possible while I have considered all the flaws that are in the language.

I hope you Is indulgent with me if there are some funny twists.

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Obviously, I am the only one who has information about You from then, I can always be contacted on E: mail. viemaen@stofanet.dk

I hope that Your story will be conveyed to your children and grandchildren so they better understand what You have been through in Your life.

I hope that Your history will be well received among Your immediate

I wish you all good luck,

Poul Buchholz Hansen

I have not included any names in this report, if you want a report with all the names of the refugees then please contact me.

Your history is published as an IBook that can be read in Ibooks on an iPad. 

There is also a version as PDF files that can be read by all computers.

Let me know which edition You want to Your nearest of kind if You want extra copies.