1.THAI PIRATES CONTINUING BRUTAL ATTACKS ON VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE by BARBARA CROSSETTE, Special to the New York Times – Published: January 11, 1982
“WASHINGTON, Jan. 10— Nguyen Tien Hoa says he escaped from Vietnam in mid-November aboard a 50-foot boat that carried about 75 refugees, more than half of them women and children.
By the end of the month, Mr. Hoa, 31 years old, wounded, distraught and alone in a disabled vessel with his 10-year-old brother, drifted ashore in Malaysia, where the boy died of shock and untended injuries.
A few days later, Mr. Hoa told an American diplomat in Kuala Lumpur what had happened. It was a chronicle of repeated attacks, robbery, torture, rape and murder at the hands of Thai pirates. In a subsequent cablegram relaying the account to the State Department, the embassy in Malaysia said, “For unrelieved, repetitive brutality,the story is one of the worst we have heard.”
Mr. Hoa’s story provided State Department Asian specialists and refugee officials with what one diplomat described as a first-person confirmation of worrying statistical evidence.
Figures compiled by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees show that there were 14 documented incidents of mass murder of Vietnamese boat people in Thai waters in 1981.
United Nations figures also show that in the first 10 months of the year, 289 refugee boats were attacked – with, on average, more than three attacks per boat. There were 484 known deaths or murders and 583 identified rape victims.
In addition, 199 women and girls were recovered from Thai houses of prostitution to which they had been abducted. In most cases, as in Mr. Hoa’s, victims identified their attackers as Thai pirates or fishermen. Officials emphasize that they believe that these figures represent only a part of the problem.
In Mr. Hoa’s account, the boat on which he was traveling was attacked by a total of 13 other craft. In the first attack, pirates boarded the boat, removed all the valuables and raped the women before taking them, along with the children, away.
Thais have been putting many in refugee camps. But they also have been reported to be towing Vietnamese boats back out to sea.”
“Vietnamese overseas still remember the horrors of their journey into exile. Former boat-person Kim Chi, whose boat left Saigon in 1979 and who now lives in Belgium, described in a recent interview how those on her boat survived by resorting to cannibalism. [Warning: the following interview contains graphic accounts.]
Kim Chi: By that time, everybody was hungry. One person said this before he died: “Why not eat human flesh to survive?” He then died, and his flesh was the first to be eaten by his wife and his children for them to survive. The idea started from there. After that other people saw it, and they began.
RFA: You were on board that boat, weren’t you?
RFA: Did you eat human flesh because of the desperate situation?
KC: Yes, yes.
RFA: How did you feel at that time?
KC: The truth is, it was horrible. When people were starving, perhaps their thinking was clouded and their judgment was impaired.
RFA: How many days had you traveled until you got into that desperate situation? How many people were on the boat?
KC: The boat was very full, maybe one hundred and forty-three people. But only 34 people survived.
RFA: Where did the boat set sail?
KC: From Saigon.
RFA: How long did you travel?
KC: We traveled about 65 days.
RFA: Why did it take that long to travel?
KC: I was very young at that time. I do not remember very clearly, but if I am not mistaken, the boat’s propeller got caught on a net and was broken. It could not run. The boat was drifting. It just drifted, dead in the water …
Then one day it ran aground on [what seemed to be an] island. It wasn’t an island, but a sandbar in Taiwanese waters. That sandbar lay in the middle of the ocean. When the tide was high, it covered the sandbar, meaning that it was completely covered by the sea. During low tides, our boat was on top of the sandbar, but the water level on the sandbar was still deep, up to our knees. That meant that even at the lowest tides the water still reached up to our knees.
RFA: There were over 100 people on the boat. Therefore, the food supplies gradually decreased. The food and water decreased, is that right?
KC: That is right. The reason was, when we started, we did not think it would take that many days [to reach our destination], and we did not bring enough food. [Everyone] started to get hungry and thirsty, and that led to our desperate actions. My uncle made the original suggestion.
He had been a schoolteacher. When he saw that his children and his wife were hungry, and he was very, very weak—he was starving, near death—he said that after he died, his wife and his children should just use his flesh for food in order to survive. He wanted his children and his wife to live.
After his death, people began to see his idea and they started eating human flesh for themselves and their families to survive. Other people survived because of his idea, not only his wife and his children.
People on the boat, other families saw this, and in the beginning they cursed and condemned the idea. They said that it was immoral, inhuman, and so on. As the night passed, and when the morning came, the only remaining part of his body was his skeleton. People cursed, people swore [at his family], but they still stole his flesh, they stole his flesh to eat.
RFA: Ate it raw like that?
KC: It was his idea in the first place.
RFA: People continued to eat flesh from dead bodies after this?
KC: In general, people ate their relatives’ flesh. It was not that we ate everyone’s flesh, because some could not be used. Mostly, the family of the dead person had the right to eat his or her flesh. It wasn’t like a free-for-all. It’s not that after a person died, [we] just grabbed their flesh and ate.
RFA: What happened to the people who had no deaths in their families? How did they survive?
KC: They begged. There were so many ways—begging, stealing. Because a dead body was not like meat that you cut up and kept in the refrigerator. The body just lay there. You went to sleep and next morning when you woke up, people had stolen all the flesh.
RFA: After they removed it from the bones, did they cook the flesh?
KC: They used the wood from the boat’s body for cooking. After a while, they had used it up. If they continued further, there would have been no place to lie down. Maybe part of it was because—near the end, if I am not mistaken—the currents were very strong and put out the fire. There was no fire for a while and some people ate raw meat during this time.
After that, a boat came to rescue us. That period only lasted a bit more than 10 days. It stopped when the ship came to tow us away.
At that time there were 64 people, but we were unlucky that we met a Taiwanese fishing boat The people [on this fishing boat] were greedy people, meaning that they would rescue us on the condition that we pay them 266 grams of gold per person.
We agreed to pay them. After we paid them, they began to get more greedy. Maybe they felt that we Vietnamese were rich people and had a lot of money, and they cooked up a scheme that instead of taking three days to go straight to shore, they stretched the journey out to 17 days by running the boat engine and giving us the impression that the boat was sailing. But the boat actually stood still.
During these 17 days, people were starving, slowly perishing from hunger. They still did not feed us. They were so heartless and cruel. They thought that we had money and that if we wanted food, we had to pay them. They did give us one meal a day, but it was only rice soup. Only soup, no salt, no meat, no fish sauce, nothing.
But if someone wanted to eat something else, he had to pay extra. They earned more money that way. At some point, they felt that we were exhausted and had no money left, but they still decided that they would not take us to shore because they planned to hide their actions. They would let us die slowly so they did not have to bring us ashore.
Unluckily for them, one day the boat had a gas leak and an explosion and it caught fire. Many people were burnt. They were badly burned and water got in the boat. It started to sink.
The accident happened in the blink of an eye—on fire and sinking. The ship’s captain was scared and he sent a message to shore to ask for help or to bring people to shore, I don’t know. Because of that, the Taiwan government allowed us to land.
When we got to Taipei, the police, ambulances, fire trucks came, everything. Because there were casualties, deaths, burns, they took [us] to the hospital.
Police began to investigate. They said that in the message, the boat captain had said there were 64 people on board, but now there were only 34. Police interrogated him and put him in jail because they began to suspect him.
In the situation of being half-dead, half-alive, no one wanted to report or sue. We were all sent to the hospital and stayed there for nearly two months. After we got out of the hospital, we were sent to a refugee camp. The American delegate came to interview us.
Because [people] had to take an oath before being allowed to settle in America, [the delegate] began to investigate and at that point learned about the cannibalism.
Original reporting in Vietnamese by Thanh Quang. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Translated by Thuy Brewer. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.”
3.Cannibalism: the chilling secret of lost boat people, from Jon Swain, Puerto Princesa, Philippines – The Sunday Times, 20 November 1988.
“In a remote corner of an asylum camp here for Vietnamese boat people waiting to be resettled in the West stands a nondescript and locked building guarded by Filipino soldiers. It is out of bounds to the camp’s 4,800 inmates.
Most of the Vietnamese would shrink from approaching it anyway. For the building houses a group of seven refugees who, in the eyes of the rest of the community, stand condemned of the ultimate sin.
Twelve days after an American warship steamed off and left them helplessly adrift in a leaking and disabled boat in the South China Sea, they chose to survive by the murder and cannibalism of their companions. The victims they killed and ate included two children, aged 11 and 14, and a 22-year-old woman.
The United States navy is investigating whether the captain of the 8,800-ton amphibious landing ship, Dubuque, which came across the boat about 250 miles from the Philippines before the killing started, should have given more help.
The ship supplied some food but took no one aboard, a decision Captain Alexander Balian, 48, who has been suspended from his command, defends. He says the encounter with the refugee boat was a chaotic “tragedy of errors” plagued by poor interpreting and inaccurate reports relayed to him on the bridge. He faces possible court-martial on 28 charges of negligent homicide.
However, not one of the 52 survivors wants Balian punished. Whatever the judgment on his action, the story of the refugees’ 37-day voyage is as harrowing as any to have emerged in the 13 years that the Vietnamese have been putting to sea in small boats to escape poverty and oppression in communist Vietnam.
Refugee workers say it also spotlights the growing international indifference to the stream of refugees pouring out of Vietnam this year, for they say as many as 50 merchant ships passed them by.
Few felt the desperate struggle for survival more acutely than Dinh Thuong Hai, a 30-year-old tailor from Saigon. He saw his best friend and young cousin murdered and eaten and he would probably have been the next victim had the group not been rescued by Filipino fishing boats off the coast of Bolinao, north of Manila.
Hai recalls it was on their 28th day at sea, when most people were desperately weak from hunger and thirst that his friend, Dao Cuong, one of the feeblest on the boat, was killed.
A group of men with a knife and sticks said they needed him for food to help the others to survive. “I said, ‘No, Cuong is still alive. I cannot let you kill and eat him. You can use him if he dies’,” Hai said.
“Cuong heard the conversation and said he did not agree to be killed. He still believed we would be rescued the next day. But the men had made up their minds. We were too weak to resist. “Kill him, kill him,” one said. “Quickly, quickly, it’s almost night.””
“When I saw the two men grab Cuong by the feet and realised they were about to kill him, I asked them to allow us a few minutes in private. Cuong had told me before we had left Vietnam he wanted to be a Catholic. I scooped up some sea water, poured it over his head and read the Bible,” Hai said, his eyes brimming with tears.
The men pushed Cuong’s head under the water until he drowned before eating his body. They were to kill three more times before they were rescued. Of the 110 refugees who left Vietnam, 58 died en route, most by drowning and starvation.
Hai’s dream of a new life in California, where he has brothers and sisters, has been shattered by this nightmare journey which started with such high hopes.
It was a warm tropical May night when the refugees left Ben Tre in southern Vietnam. Hai was accompanied by Cuong and his young cousin, Pham Quy. Each had paid an escape syndicate an ounce of gold for a place. They were told there would be only 60 passengers, but when the 45ft riverboat set out they found 110 men, women and children crammed on board with only enough food and water for a few days.
They were bound for Malaysia, six days away across the South China Sea, but after barely two days a storm blew up. The boat sprang a leak and the motor failed.
This disaster provoked an early division between those who wanted to go back and those who wished to continue, fearing that if they returned they would go to jail. Hai was among those who favoured continuing, for this was his fifteenth attempt to escape by boat from Vietnam and he was desperately looking forward to a future in America.
His friendship with Cuong had begun in 1983 in Song Be prison where both had been sent after being caught during an earlier escape. They talked of nothing else.
The refugees rigged a makeshift sail and prayed for rescue. It did not come. Day after day they were passed by merchant ships, some within hailing distance of their drifting boat. At the sight of a ship they scrawled an SOS with toothpaste on a piece of wood and held it up. At night they made bonfires out of their clothes.
Once, when a Japanese freighter came within 100 yards several refugees, maddened by hunger and thirst, jumped in the water and swam towards it. The ship sailed on, leaving them to drown.
On the fourteenth day a 22-year-old man died of thirst and his body was committed to the sea. On the fifteenth day Vo Thi Bach Yen’s four-year-old daughter died, one of seven small children to perish that day. Her daughter was the focus of her life, Yen recalled last week, wiping away tears.
“She did not say anything. She just stopped breathing,” Yen said. “The next day I asked two passengers in the boat to help me to put her little body into the sea.”
Yen was taking her daughter to California to join her husband, a former captain in the defeated Saigon army, and her two older children who have been there for more than a year. Afterwards, Yen said she no longer cared what happened to her. “I sat there without emotion and left everything to fate.”
During the next days, several people began drinking sea water and their own urine, which hastened their deaths. Others toppled into the sea, jumped overboard and swam away, or clung to pieces of wood or oil drums, convinced by the seagulls circling overhead that land was nearby.
A few days later the refugees’ spirits rose when they spotted the USS Dubuque. As the warship circled, four refugees jumped from the boat and swam towards it. One died in the endeavour and the others reached the ship only to be rebuffed by the American sailors who leaned over the side to tell them it was on a secret mission and they could not come aboard. The sailors threw down three lifejackets and told the refugees to swim back to their boat.
The Dubuque was in fact speeding towards the Persian Gulf to escort the Vincennes, the American warship that a few weeks later mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 people aboard. Balian has said that when they encountered the boat his crew was under considerable stress and emotions were high at the prospect of entering a war zone.
It was in this tense atmosphere that he took the decision not to embark the refugees. His crew had assured him, wrongly, that the Vietnamese were in reasonably good shape and the boat was seaworthy and under power. He therefore did not pick up the refugees as he had twice done in ships before but sent sailors in a launch to distribute food and water to the refugees. Two hours later, the Dubuque sailed away leaving heartbreak behind.
The survivors tell a different story. They say they told the Americans many people had died already on the boat. The Americans were in no doubt how desperate they were.
In fact, the body of one refugee who had just died, the father of a 10-year-old boy who later watched his mother and brother starve to death was thrown overboard in full view of the American ship. Hai claims sailors photographed the corpse floating in the water.
“We will never let anyone on your boat die again,” Hai recalls one Vietnamese-speaking American telling them. Hai said the Americans gave them six cases of tinned meat, boxes of apples, plastic containers of fresh water and a map with directions to the Philippines. But although the refugees say they explained to the sailor that the boat had broken down, no one offered to repair their engine.
According to Balian, the refugees were supplied with 400lb of food and 50 gallons of water. Tragically he believes they misunderstood a Dubuque sailor who, they say, promised them a rescue ship would come in a couple of days.
Convinced that help was imminent, they squandered the food. In fact, the refugees drifted for 18 more days. What the Americans did not know, because nobody had dared to tell them, was that for the past two weeks the drifting boat had been terrorised by one of the refugees, named Phung Quang Minh.
Exactly how Minh, a 32-year-old ex-corporal in the South Vietnamese air force, was able to establish his leadership is unclear. But about a week into the journey, as panic began to set in and food ran out, he surrounded himself with a group of followers, mostly teenagers, who carried out his orders in return for extra food and water seized from the weaker passengers.
As the vessel took in water he organised bailing teams. Even the boat’s captain deferred to his authority. One dawn, the captain jumped overboard with his daughter and three relatives and vanished.
If Minh’s initial intention in taking command was to stop the refugees becoming a panic-stricken rabble that would hasten all their deaths, his later actions were incredibly cruel and selfish.
He beat Yen about the head with a shoe to stop her giving water to dying children, confiscated the American food, and began, 12 days after the encounter with the Dubuque, to murder his companions.
He claims the decision to kill was reached by consensus. But the truth is that by this stage the boat people were too weak to resist Minh’s gang, which had a knife and sticks. “It was horrible, but we did not have the strength to stop him,” said Yen.
Hai recalls that two days before Cuong was forcibly drowned, his friend was so driven by hunger that he gave Minh a gold ring in exchange for an apple. Refugees were dying at the rate of one or two a day. But Minh and his gang preferred to kill for their food rather than feast on the corpses of those who died.
Minh’s gang murdered and ate a total of four refugees. The last victim, who was only 11, was killed the day before they were rescued by Filipino fishermen. The boy was still strong and understood what was happening. “I don’t want to die,” he screamed and hid in the cabin.
Minh says in a statement that he dragged him out and handed him over to his men who took three minutes to drown him in the sea. As they had done with the previous victims, they cut off the head, dismembered the body, and distributed the cooked flesh.
Nearly everyone agrees that these killings are not a normal case of murder. Since they detained Minh, the Philippine authorities have been consulting some of their best legal brains about whether they should prosecute. Lawyers argue that desperate circumstances raise complex legal questions which are compounded by the refugee status of the Vietnamese and the fact that the deaths occurred at sea.
If the case comes to court, Minh’s lawyers are likely to plead a defence of necessity, arguing that the refugees had lost all semblance of sanity and were driven to kill by desperation.
But the case is far from clear cut. At the end of the last century two shipwrecked mariners, Dudley and Stephens, cast adrift in an open boat 1,600 miles from land, killed and ate a 17-year-old boy to save their own lives. In a judgment which could serve as a precedent, a British judge ruled that self-preservation was not a justification and convicted the men of murder.
Whatever the legal outcome here, the seven members of the Minh group face an uncertain future. “They are branded. It is clear that they are very hard to present to any resettlement country,” said a refugee worker. It is thought that two solutions present themselves. One is an indefinite stay in the Philippines. The other is return, albeit involuntary, to Vietnam.
In the meantime, the seven are under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees while the Philippine investigation continues. The survivors and the rest of the Vietnamese community here cannot forgive. “What Minh did was wrong,” said Hai.
There have been other reports of cannibalism at sea by Vietnamese boat people who ate their dead companions to survive. But never before, as far as anyone knows, have refugees killed for food to stay alive.
At about the same time as the Bolinao group arrived, another boat reached the Philippines with equal loss of life through hunger and thirst. But as other Vietnamese point out, there was no murder or cannibalism on that boat although the refugees who staggered ashore are said to have looked like people liberated from a concentration camp”
“Koh Kra is a deserted island in the gulf of Siam 80 kilometres from Nakhon Si Thammarat, 55 kilometers from the coastal town of Pak Panang.
Koh Kra is an uninhabited island of three and half square miles of rock and jungle, off the coast of southern Thailand. Thai fishermen used the island as a prison to hold Vietnamese refugees.
Ko Kra, located about 54 km from the nearest shore, consists of three islets: Ko Kra Yai, Ko Kra Klang and Ko Kra Lek, as well as one small rocky outcrop, Hin Ko Kra. The whole area surrounding these islets is a good diving spot owing to its relative remoteness.
Until spring of 1981, Thai fishermen hunted refugee women on that island. According to UNHCR, one female refugee was severely burned when southern Thai fishermen, attempting to flush her out, set fire to the hillside where she was hiding. Another cowered for days in a cave, waist deep in water, until crabs had torn the skin and much of the flesh away from her legs.
By Oct 1980, 160 refugees are known to have died on that island alone. The total no doubt was far higher before a detail of six or eight marines was stationed on the island in the spring of 1981 and halted the carnage.”
The engraving on the plaque reads:
“In honor of the thousands of Vietnamese refugees who were marooned, abused, tortured, and even murdered here on Koh Kra island. May their suffering never be forgotten. With heartfelt thanks to Mr. Ted Schweitzer, who was instrumental in saving thousands of marooned refugees.”
Ted Schweitzer was an UNHCR field officer as described in the book “Human Trafficking Anthology: Four Shocking Stories of Human Trafficking by Reagan Martin and Tim Huddleston”.
“In the 1970’s he had taken a job as a librarian at the international school in Bangkok, Thailand, and immediately fell in love with the land of Southeast Asia. He was fluent in both Thai, and French, and had married a stunning, dark haired Thai girl.
When his school contract ended, he had no desire to return the states and so took a position as a “media consultant” at the American Air Force Base in Udorn, northeast Thailand. His job was for the defense department at the Ramasun Station, where he oversaw the highly sensitive secret archives.
While there, he was sent to Cambodia, just before the capital fell to the Khmer Rouge, where his assignment was to help salvage documents and equipment from the American military mission during the Vietnam War. It was during this time that Schweitzer realized he was in his element doing this type of work. He functioned well under pressure, and confusing situations only made his adrenaline pump faster. He quickly became skilled at using computerized systems, long before the ‘world wide web’ became a household word.
Between these skills, and his fluency in the Thai language, it was no surprise that in 1979 he was hired by the UNHCR as a field officer at the regional office in Bangkok. But Schweitzer was not one to sit behind a desk, and having seen the plight of the Vietnamese people while in Cambodia, he begged to be given a position in the ‘field’.
“I’m a field officer.” He told his boss at UNHCR. “I don’t want to shuffle paper, I want to help refugees. Send me to the field.”
Granting his wishes, the UNHCR assigned him to the port in Songkla, Thailand, where he lived in a comfortable house along the shore. But any relationship Schweitzer may have forged with Thai officials quickly deteriorated after he was approached by a woman who showed him a letter she had received from her Vietnamese daughter. The woman had not known what had become of the girl until the teen had somehow smuggled the letter to her mother, revealing that she, along with 16 other refugees, were being held in a brothel in Songkla.
Schweitzer went in and rescued the 17 Vietnamese girls, who had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution, and in doing so had brought upon himself the wrath of Thai police. The brothel, it soon became known, was owned in part by a Thai police officer.
Schweitzer had only been working for the UNHCR for a short time when the pilot of the helicopter called him about the mass of people spotted on Koh Kra Island. When the pilot refused to land, and they returned from their trip, Schweitzer immediately secured a Thai Marine Police patrol to sail him back to Koh Kra.
Reaching the shores of the little island, which was barely three and a half miles square, was difficult. Surrounded by a reef of white coral, which made beaching any watercraft virtually impossible, the boat would need to anchor off shore and use motorized rubber rafts and dinghy’s, to reach land.
The pirate ships had since departed, and once Schweitzer and the men came ashore, they found 157 Vietnamese refugees, many hysterical, and in need of medical attention. Schweitzer did what he could to get the group stable, and then the men began the arduous task of bringing them back to the mainland.
Schweitzer would take the survivors to a refugee camp in Songkla, which was originally built in 1976 to house the inpouring of refugees entering the country. At that time the camp was small, and quickly ran out of room. So in 1978 construction for a bigger camp was begun, and was still a work in progress now. But by 1980 Songkhla Camp would contain 32 wooden barracks and house 6,000 refugees.
The camp was a lot like a prison, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and patrolled daily by a company provided from the Thai army. It may not have seemed like the most accommodating of conditions, but compared to the fate of those refugees who fell into the hands of pirates, it could have been the Beverly Hills Hilton.
There were three wells on the property to provide fresh water for drinking and cooking, but no place to gather wood for the fires. UNHCR provided a monthly limit of charcoal, but it never seemed to be enough, and the refugees were forced to try and find other fuel to cook their food.
This, of course, aroused the greed in others to quickly rear its ugly head. The men who patrolled the camp encouraged their friends to open small markets outside the enclosure, and sell firewood and other goods for astronomical prices. Most of the refugees had no money, nor anyone on the outside to help them with income. For these people, charity would be their only means of survival.
Still, it was better than what happened to those who fell prey to the pirates, as Ted Schweitzer was learning, while listening to those he had just rescued from Koh Kra Island. The story they would tell was so horrific and brutal that it would stay with him for the rest of his life.”
More about Ted Schweitzer’s dangerous missions, altruistic efforts and brave actions to rescue Vietnamese refugees and was banned by the Thai government for his trouble. Some of Schweitzer’s heroics are difficult to document because those who witnessed them were either pirates or refugees who have since disappeared into the anonymity of new lives in far away place. But interviews with people who worked with Schweitzer or were helped by him revealed nothing that contradicts the assessment of Nguyen Huu Xuong, director of the Boat People SOS Committee in San Diego: “He’s a fantastic man.”
“He’s a great man,” said Nhat Tien, one of the most revered novelists in the Vietnamese language. “He rescued a lot of people.”.
“Most of the rescue operations were led by the UNHCR’s field officer, Theodore Schweitzer, sometimes with the assistance of the Thai police. Schweitzer first arrived in Koh Kra in mid 1979, and he then found evidence everywhere of earlier attacks against the refugees.
Between the last month of 1979 and the first months of 1982, Schweitzer made at least two dozen trips to Koh Kra saving 1250 refugees. In 1983, he founded the private humanitarian organisation South East Asia Rescue Foundation to assist the Indochinese refugees
Schweitzer also believes that the attacks were perpetrated by opportunistic fishermen rather than of organized criminals.
For Schweitzer, that trip to Ko Kra was the first of dozens. He dove from a rented fishing boat that couldn’t beach because of high seas and swam alone to the island to rescue dozens of women whose screams he could no longer bear to hear. Dressed only in his shorts he tried to scared 50 sea toughened pirates into running away by warning them that they were about to be arrested. The pirates beat him so ferociously that they broke a rib and a collar bone and so severely injured a kidney that he still requires medical treatment.
That was one of two serious beatings he received, Schweitzer said; he was threatened more times than he can recall. He even heard that a contract had been put out on his life by the relatives of some the seven Thai pirates he captured – which was seven more than the Thai navy arrested during the same period.”
5.Ted Schweitzer’s photos of the refugees rescued at Koh kra.
“In a shaking voice, Nhat Tien, and the other refugees among the 157 just rescued revealed for Ted Schweitzer what had happened to them on their perilous journey from Vietnam to the desolate island of Koh Kra.
Pirates had attacked their boat just offshore, and had thrown most of them overboard into the sea. Those who could manage swam to shore, but seventeen of them couldn’t make it and drowned trying.
When dawn broke those survivors huddled on the beach were met by the other Vietnamese who were already on the island. These fellow refugees told them that often pirates would tow entire boatloads of refugees to Koh Kra, where they would systematically rob them of any valuables and rape their women.
Nhat Tien and the others, although having heard horrific tales of what pirates did to the boat people from their country, were confused. The pirates who had attacked their boat had not followed them onto the island. But this fact alone was not enough for them to let their guard down. They would just have to wait and see what happened.
As the days passed and no pirates showed up, Nhat Tien and the others waited for help. They had virtually no food, very little water, and no means to leave the island, as their boat had been lost after the attack. Their hope was dwindling fast, and they prayed daily that a ship would come to rescue them. After a few days, a ship did stop by. But it was a ship loaded with pirates, and all too soon the refugees realized the only rescue they might offer was death.
As the pirates came ashore, they surveyed the women, grabbing any that caught their fancy, and throwing them to the ground. Then, stripping off her clothes, they would brutally rape her right in front of her husband, children, parents and all the others. The pirates took turns, each man having sex with as many women as he wanted, as the girls cried and pleaded for help. One girl would tell Schweitzer that she was raped ‘hundreds’ of times in little more than a 24-hour period.
Many of the refugee men, sickened by the sight of their women being brutalized, tried to intervene and were clubbed and beaten for their effort. One man, however, refused to be intimidated, and he bravely demanded that the pirates leave the women alone.
At first, the pirates were amused, laughing at the man and shoving him out of the way. But after a while, tired of the game, one of the pirates took an ax from his belt and swung it at the man, hitting him across the face. The refugee went down, and a second blow to the back of his head opened a wound several inches wide that sprayed blood and brain matter in a wide arc.
Those refugees who watched the murder began to scream in terror, but the pirates only laughed and continued to ravish the girls. They seemed oblivious to the dead man lying there, and the others who pleaded for mercy.
Every day, more pirate ships arrived, bringing different men to rape and ravish the women. Schweitzer would later learn that when women prisoners were on Koh Kra, word spread quickly among the pirates in the region, and hundreds of them would rush to the island to sample the new merchandise. Incredibly, on one single day, 50 ships had arrived to brutalize the girls, some of whom were literally raped to death.
On another day, the pirates lined up the refugees and examined each of their mouths. Taking one from the line, five pirates forced the man to the ground and held him down. Then, using a knife, one of them cut and pried the gold-filled teeth from the refugee’s mouth.
After the first series of rapes, many of the women had scattered about the island, trying to find shrubbery and caves to hide in. Pirates would search, finding many, but at other times, they would simply torture the male refugees until they told them where they were hiding, or until the man’s pitiful screams brought the women out on their own.
Schweitzer himself had come upon one of these hidden girls while he was on the island, and when he found her, her condition reduced him to tears.
The girl was young, barely in her teens, and for the past eighteen days she had been hiding in a rocky sea cave, trying to avoid the pirates. But the cave had not been a kind sanctuary for her. She had been forced to stand in waist deep water, and when Schweitzer finally pulled her from the cave, the girl could no longer walk. Her legs were little more than exposed bone, having been feasted on by sea crabs, and the caustic salt water had done the rest. The poor girls flesh was virtually rotted away.
Schweitzer was shocked and appalled by what he was hearing, although he later wondered why. He had seen the lighthouse himself, but until now, the words on it had not hit home.
On Koh Kra, there was an abandoned lighthouse that sat atop a concrete base. On the base were written these words:
KO KRA ISLAND – ISLAND OF THE DEVIL
The women and girls must hide.
You must not let the Thai pirates see them.
If they do they will be raped.
The sign was only of help to refugees washed ashore or shipwrecked nearby. But for those brought to the island by pirates it did little good. There was simply no chance for anyone to hide at those times.
To Ted Schweitzer, Koh Kra appeared to be little more than a personal playground for area pirates. With anger mounting and his heart breaking, Schweitzer knew he would have to do anything in his power to help these people. And it didn’t matter how many missions to the island it took.”
Writer Nhat Tien also reported of other stories in his book that can be downloaded here.
“Story from the book “Pirates_in_the_gulf_of_Siam by Tien Phuc Thuy”
Here are barebones summaries of a few pirate encounters:
First incident: 87 People killed. Witness Ms Nguyen Thi Phuong. Boat number #SS0640 IA, carrying 107 people, left Rach Gia on Dec 1, 1979. On the third day, they encountered pirates. The refugee boat was so crowded, pirates moved 27 people to the pirate boat, creating space to search and rob all the refugees. Pirates then towed the refugee boat at full speed in a circle, causing the refugee boat to sink. The eighty souls aboard drowned. Pirates took the 27 survivors to Koh Kra; as they approached the island they shoved the men overboard, forcing them to attempt to swim ashore. Seven of the men drowned. On the 8th day at Koh Kra island, Mr Schweitzer (UNHCR) came to take the refugees to the mainland. During the 8 days on the island, the refugees were tortured and questioned repeatedly, as several pirate gangs landed each day. The women tried to hide in the jungle or on the mountain, but they were unable to elude the pirates.
Second Incident: 70 People killed. Witness Vu Zuy Thai. Boat number VNKG 0980, carrying 120 people, left Rach Gia on Dec 29, 1979. On Dec 31 a pirate boat, orange-red in color with number 128 on the bow, rammed the refugee boat, cracking it. The pirates disabled the refugees’ engine and enlarged the crack, so water poured in. After robbing the refugees the pirates left, taking the pretty girls with them. About 50 people hung on to the pirate boat when their boat started sinking. The pirates left the survivors on Koh Kra. On the night of Jan 1, 1980 A Thai navy boat number (# 18) came to Koh Kra. The navy men forced all the refugees to strip and stand naked. After observing the naked refugees, the navy men left. On Jan 2 another navy boat, #17, visited the island. They forced the female refugees to publicly strip and stand naked, then searched them before returning to their boat. Navy boat #17 remained nearby until January 4, when they left. While the navy boat was present, the pirates were nowhere to be seen. As soon as the navy boat left, 4 pirate boats came to island, but there was nothing left to take. They took turns raping the women in public, among the victims’ friends and families. Five girls were gang raped: KH 15 years old, BT 17, AH 12, HY 11 and MT 15. On the 5th day, Mr Schweitzer arrived with police boat and rescued the suffering refugees.
Third incident: Pirates sold girls into prostitution. Witness Miss Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet, 17. An unmarked junk 10 m long and carrying 78 people left Nha Trang on Dec 8, 1979. After 3 days at sea, they ran out of fuel and food and their boat drifted for 10 days on the high seas. Twelve children died. On Dec 21 they met 2 pirate boats. The pirates forced all the refugees onto their ship. A pregnant woman was beaten to death because she was unable to stand. Pirates searched the refugees and their boat thoroughly, even prying up planks where they thought likely hiding places for valuables might be. The refugees were abused, and the survivors left on Koh Kra. The next day 2 more pirate boats came to rob abuse the surviving refugees. This time, the three prettiest girls were taken away. Miss Anh Tuyet and My Kieu were put aboard a boat skippered by a pirate named Samsac. Miss Lan went on the other boat, and no one knows what has become of her. Samsac took Tuyet and Kieu to Songkhla, and kept them in a hotel. Tuyet was held under guard by a man named Biec, while Kieu was kept in another room with Samsac. According to Miss Tuyet’s account, she screamed when Biec tried to rape her. This disturbed people staying in adjacent rooms (mostly Westerners), who came to rescue her. Biec fled. Samsac fled with My Kieu in the midst of the chaos, and took her to another hotel in Hat Yai. Miss Tuyet led police to the dock where Samsac’s boat was still moored. Eventually the crew was arrested, including Samsac himself. They confessed that they had intended to sell the girls in the red light district of town.”