Tuesday, June 30, 2009

EXTRACT FROM A FEW DIARY PAGES OF THE TRUONG XUAN SHIP



EXTRACT FROM A FEW DIARY PAGES
OT THE TRUONG XUAN SHIP

Phạm Ngọc Lũy

[Trích đăng và cảm ơn Vietbao online và nhiều dịch giả với mục đích để cho người Âu Mỹ và thế hệ con cháu chúng ta ở Hải Ngoại biết một phần về Biến Cố 75.]

Chapter 27
Extract from a few diary pages of the Truong Xuan ship
Dec 11, 1974: Truong Xuan ship leaving Saigon for Hon Khoi to pick up salt for Singapore.
Dec 29, 1974: Leaving Singapore for Bangkok.
Jan 3, 1975: Leaving Bangkok for Ceba.
Jan 25,1975: Leaving Mindanao for Makessar.
Feb 11, 1975: Vietnamese New Year “At Mao”, Year of the Cat
March 7, 1975: Leaving Batangas for Borneo.
March 13, 1975: Arriving at Balik Papan.
April 2, 1975: Leaving Balik Papan for Pare-Pare.
April 3, 1975: 6am, Radio Australia announced“ Communist troops were 60 km from Saigon, marching toward the capital without any resistance.”
April 4, 1975: Meeting with the seaman staff to send a message to the ship company to cancel the contract of returning to Saigon.
April 7, 1975: Leaving Pare-Pare for Singapore.
April 14, 1975: Leaving Singapore for Saigon.
April 17, 1975: Docking at Pier 5, Khanh Hoi at 2pm High Tide.
April 18, 1975: Requesting the ship company to provide 180 tonnes of fresh water, 1 tonne of rice in 10 separate bags and fuel for the next ocean trip.
April 20, 1975: Proposing to the ship owner, Mr. Tran Dinh Truong, “(I) volunteer to provide transportation and means to anyone who wants to flee by boat in order to save the whole fleet of the company”. Request to appoint Mr. Le Hong Phi as the Chief Naval Mechanic because of rumor of engine sabotage. Reply from the ship owner: “I already have my own plans.”
April 21,1975: Start loading scrap iron to head for Manila. The ship crane had to be repaired, I needed to rent a mobile crane.
April 26, 1975: Scrap iron was adequately loaded in the storage. Customs and Visa papers were done and cleared. Steam vessel was still being repaired.
April 27, 1975: The ship did not have its substituted chief mechanic yet as the former one had already quitted. Company still did not O.K. my request for replacement. Plan to escape by Truong Xuan looked grim, to be scrapped?
April 29, 1975: Tan Son Nhat airport was heavily shelled by the Communists. Transportation by air was paralyzed.
13 hours: Arriving at ship company at 36 Hong Thap Tu for the last time. Did not meet the owner.
16 hours: The ship owner met with me to O.K. my request as per April 20 memo. He gave me papers from the government to ship Vietnamese citizens to Phu Quoc. Ship owner’s words: ” As the Ship Captain, you have all the rights and authority to use the Truong Xuan ship”.
18 hours: Did not see Le Hong Phuc at the ship, Phuc had accepted his role as the chief mechanic before that time. Gave orders to the Assistant Officer, Tran Van Chat “ship will leave on April 30, around 12 noon”.
20 hours: Arrived at my house. Curfew ordered day and night. Could not get a wink of sleep the whole night. Had to decide: to leave or not to leave. Totally obsessed by the refugees fleeing in Central Vietnam.

April 30, 1975:
6am: Leaving for the harbor to assess the ship’s condition.
7:45am: Getting back to our house.
9:30am: Around 200 relatives, neighbors loaded in the 2 GMC trucks. Trucks were stopped at the harbor entrance even though we had shown them the permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. One of my relatives gave the policeman a thick envelope. The door was slowly lifted up and the 2 GMC trucks went in with a few dozens of people clinging to them.
9:45am: The Telecommunication Officer requested to stay back because of his lost contact with his family…Fortunately, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, a Telecommunication Officer from another ship company took over. More and more people boarding the ship.
10:25am: Radio announced the surrender news…Hundreds of soldiers and civilians rushed to board Truong Xuan from everywhere.12 noon: The Independence Palace, the National Bank were taken over by the Communists.
12:30pm: The Chief Mechanic reported that the engine was running o.k. Order to depart was immediately sent out. The rudder system was sabotaged; water was pumped into the engine instead of fuel. Tying a chain to the ship deck next door. The rising tide turned the boat around, its front deck facing the sea. How come this strange sheer luck?
1:30pm: Departure, using the stand-by rudder, something that the Ship Captain should not do when the ship is running in a river. Heard about the disorder of people fleeing Central Vietnam…
A committee were formed immediately:A. Sea Journey Committee consisting of:
-A Lieutenant Colonel pilot.
-A Major from the 25BB division-A Dentist.
-A Professor.
-A Lawyer.
-Two Naval Officers.
-A Business Administration student from Minh Duc University.
B. Law and Order Committee consisting of:
-A Lieutenant Colonel from the Combat Police Force
-A Parachutist Major and many officers and soldiers.
-A civilian.
C. Medical Committee consisting of:
-A Medical Doctor.
-Other volunteers.
5pm: The generator went dead. The ship ran aground. Dozens of young men came down to the engine room to pump by hand as the compression starting motor was empty.
7:30pm: The tug boat named Song An pulled Truong Xuan off the ground.
11:00pm: Tug boat Song An hit the fishing net. The ex-soldiers tried their best to cut the cables and fishing net off the rudder of Song An.

May 1, 1975: The tug cable continued to snap. The tide rose so fast.
5am: Truong Xuan ran very near to Vung Tau Mountain to avoid the sunken ship named Kagwamaru. The cable snapped again, the ship drifting back ward, further away from the mountain. Ex-soldiers were ready to fight back if the ship was attacked.
7:30am: Passing Bai Truoc beach.
8:00am: Passing London Maru buoy, about 45 knots away from Saigon. Low tide started.
10:00am: Truong Xuan was 16 knots south of Vung Tau. Engine started again, big applause from everyone. Gave order to surrender all weapons. 50 guns of different sizes were kept in the Map Room which was then securely locked. After many continuous incidents, despite of hunger and thirst and thanks to the good will and good understanding of everyone on board, 4000 Vietnamese refugee compatriots safely boarded the Swedish Clara Maersk at 4pm on May 2, 1975 while the seawater was flowing into the engine.
Chapter 28
Truong Xuan’s Last Trip
Around 2:30pm, May 2, 1975, after all the refugees had been evacuated to the Clara Maersk, the ship crewmembers remained behind. The crew consisted of the Assistant Officer Tran Van Chat, Telecommunication Officer Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, Chief Mechanic Le Hong Phi, Oiler Ton Hoa, Cook Chung An and myself. I handed over to Thanh my communiqué to leaders and the presses of the free world. “The Truong Xuan ship carries more than 3000 Vietnamese fleeing Saigon from the Communists after the Communists invasion. The engine room is deep in water. The ship will likely sink. We were lucky to be rescued by the Clara Maersk ship, of Denmark. On behalf of all the refugees onboard, I hereby appeal to all the free world countries to accept and save all of our fellow refugees.”Signed: Captain Pham Ngoc Luy. The communiqué was not sent. Holding it in his hand, Thanh looked upset and told me in his trembling voice.“Sir, I cannot send it, the generator room was submerged in water. I sent for Chief Mechanic Phi to come up to report to you, Sir.” Phi looked haggard, his face and clothing were stained with grease. He reported that while the ship stayed stationary to allow passengers to board the Danish ship, the pump engine did not operate, consequently water was running into the engine room and paralyzed the generator. Every hour of the pump not working, water was flowing at a rate of 100 tonnes per hour”. His worries appeared through his eyes.The ship was in the sinking state and there was no chance that it could run again. Thinking of the safety of the crewmembers still onboard, I ordered without hesitation: “Leave the ship, everyone!” Three days without sleep, my nerves were totally wrecked. Every fiber of my muscles was exhausted. I was sick; my health condition was at its worst. My country already fell to the Communists. I felt overwhelmed with responsibilities, yet I still had to keep calm and steady at this hopeless moment. Could the physical fatigue empower the mind condition? According to the Navy tradition, I was the last person to leave the ship. Truong Xuan was left behind, unattended. I felt a sharp pain in me. I bid farewell to my dear ship, the last piece of my country left behind.The sea was so calm, not a single breeze blowing, our national flag- still onboard, above the rudder- appeared as if it were in the state of mourning. The small ship, (or was it really a boat?), had carried almost 4000 of my fellow Vietnamese to run away from the Communist doctrine until its last and most painful moment.Truong Xuan was 93 meters long, meters wide, had 1500 horsepowers and a loading capacity of 3000 tonnes. The Truong Xuan was a cargo ship built in Japan in the late Fifties and had already out-performed its capacities. It was jammed with people, loaded with worries, anxieties and hope. It was now left behind. Its cranes were still towering in the sky. The deck was indescribably deserted. I left the ship that had carried so many happy and sad memories. It had cruised in the calm ocean; it had been beaten up by storms. It had helped us escape our country, now full of hatred. I tried my best not to shed tears. What would happen to my ship? Where would it end? Would it sink to the bottom of the sea?

Tác giả: Niên trưởng Phạm Ngọc Lũy
Dịch giả: Nhiều dịch gỉa
Nguồn: Vietbao online

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