Thursday, June 25, 2009

THE LIFE OF A SEAMAN



THE LIFE
OF A SEAMAN

Captain Ta Canh Hi







I was a sea captain with 27 years of sea service. I shall tell you about 3 incidents that happened to my seaman life, which was unforgettable, and have always been present in my mind, as fresh as if they happened yesterday.
On December 24, 1957, I was Third Officer embarked on the steam tanker “Prelude,” belonging to Grand Tanker Corporation New York, 250 Park Avenue, New York 17, Captain M. Nelson Amy. I kept watch from 8 p.m. to midnight; it was the night of 24 December 1957, the ship moored at Standard Vacuum Oil Co., Bangkok, Thailand. I got down to the main deck and the 2nd Officer leaving told me, “Good watch.” Five minutes later, I turned around and saw a wall of flame 15 yards long, 4 to 5 yards high. The fire spread along the wharf and the ship; the spring line was also on fire. I immediately took a fire extinguisher closest to me and discharged at the spring line to stop the fire from spreading to the rest of the ship. The paint then began to burn. With a strong ebb tide, the flame was blowing away rapidly. Of the two quarter masters, only one stayed with me. I ordered him to take a second extinguisher. He brought it to me and I continued to discharge at the hull near tank no. 2. Although Avigas had finished discharging this tank 3 hours before, [I had to take precautionary measures] to prevent the flame from burning the paint on the hull. After 20 minutes, it [the flame] came to normal [and the fire was put out].
When the docker disconnected the discharging hose, there was about 25 to 30 gallons of Mogas left inside the hose. People on the sampan selling their fruits near the wharf [to the sailors who] were smoking cigarettes [and tossing them overboard] caused another fire outbreak. Again, I was able to put out the fire and discharged at the base of the flame near the surface of the water. Then the security officers and police investigation of the Bangkok port arrived and began the investigation. I could not speak at the time [as a result of exhaustion from the smoke]. I was deeply depressed and very tired at the moment. On the 25th of December 1957, we set sail at destination to Sungei Gerong, South Sumatra, Indonesia.
Another incident was when I was a Captain as a Tanker, Vietnamese flag. All ships must leave the inner port before 6 p.m. and go to the open sea. This was during the N-E monsoon and the open sea was especially rough. [Otherwise] after 6 p.m., the suicide team of North Vietnam divers [who were working for the Communist] took action against all ship, I found a good anchorage nearby, in the outer baby of Danang. The first time anchorage was uninjured. On the second trip, I came back to the same location, [and again,] uninjured. However, the Communist divers paid attention to my anchorage location [after this time]. It was the 2nd of September 1972 of the third trip in which my night anchorage became the last at this location.
During that morning, the enemies came with sampan (a small, wooden boat) to portray as fishermen with food and drinks. They hid two mines and some towlines below in order to disguise themselves when our crew came over to inspect the sampan. The “fishermen” were waiting for nighttime to begin their operation of sabotage. At 1p.m., two quarter masters had discovered two nylon lines running along the ship, near tank no. 2, which contained 400,000 liters of Avigas (a type of aviation fuel). They pulled up [the line] and suddenly the nylon line broke. Fortunately, the magnetic mine (rectangle, Chinese made) appeared 3 inches above the water line and we were able to spot it. At 1:10 p.m., they woke me up and showed it to me. I called the radio officer to send a SOS message to both the U.S. Navy Base at Danang and the Vietnamese Navy Base at Danang Bay.
Within 20 minutes, the lifeboats were lowered and the crew members were prepared to leave the ship [at once]. A patrol boat river (PBR) arrived, with one lieutenant from the U.S. Navy and two divers for rescue, and the crew embarked onboard two other PBR to go to the naval base. By 1:45 p.m., I was the only crew member remaining on board to show the U.S. lieutenant the position of the magnetic mine. After 15 minutes pondering on the matter, he told me, “There was a 50 % chance that the ship could be saved. By the pulling the mine secured to a strong towline to a high-speed boat, the mine would be disengaged from the ship if there were not any ragging (rubbing) along the hull. As long as no sparks were created from the pulling motion, then the ship would be saved [from the magnetic mine].” Thus, the strong, new towline was secured to the mind. The lieutenant and I left my ship. I went on board a navy boat and the lieutenant went to the high-speed boat to initialize the operation. I later heard on the radio, communication between two navy boats at 4:45 p.m., that the mine was pulled out safely and recuperated on board by the lieutenant for further investigation.
At 7 a.m., I came back to my ship with a radio officer to send a message to Saigon. We had discovered a second nylon along the ship. We postulated that a second mine was stuck to the hull, but 10 feet under the water line. We sent a second message for rescue. At 9 a.m., one navy boat came with two divers. I explained to them how we pulled out the first mine and they decided to do the same thing for the second one. The divers located the second mine at its position. The same operation began at 9:30 a.m. From this incident, we knew that the second mine was tied to the first mine, and there was a clock set up for 12 a.m. as the explosion time. T his was the time we were scheduled to discharge both Avigas and Mogas (automobile fuel) at Lien Chieu Bay. The enemies plotted to destroy my ship and the shipping oil station at the same time, when the ship had began to discharge its fuel at the scheduled time.
The third incident happened in 1974, when we brought a rice cargo of 1500 tons for U.S.A.I.D. from Saigon to destination Phom Penh, during the war outbreak in Cambodia. We proceeded up the Mekong River and at An Long Navy Base, after a brief meeting with all commanders of the merchant fleet and the staff (Vietnamese and Cambodian Navy) of this base, my ship took rank no.3 (classification according to ship speed). We continued to proceed up the Mekong River. The ship was protected by 4 meters of sandbags on two sides of the bridge; thus, if any firing had occurred, then the sand would have stopped the rocket from making contact with my ship. Because of the sandbags, we could only see the front through two holes. Upon the angle turning (elbow), the Panama ship “Bonanza 3” increased its speed from behind and overtook my ship. I reduced my speed to let him pass in front of my ship. The enemies located at the front right side of the river shelled (fired) on “Bonanza 3” four rockets, one on the main deck, and two others in the engine room. “Bonanza” steered to starboard (right side) and aground on the bank in order to leave the channel clear for the coming ships (my ship). Thank God, we should have received 3 to 4 rockets and yet “Bonanza 3” who sped up before my ship received these rockets and we were uninjured.
On the same day, we continued to proceed up the river to reach Phom Penh. At 3 p.m., from the shore’s left side, the enemies sent to my ship 3 rockets near the water line. Hatch no. 2 received the 3 rockets causing a hole in the hull, 4 feet wide, 2 feet deep. We stopped the gap with 40 blankets to protect the rice from the incoming water of the river, while reducing speed at “slow ahead.” Finally, we arrived at Phom Penh at 10 p.m. and moored at pier no.3 [which was reserved especially for my ship while the other ships awaited], without casualty and began to discharge the rice cargo immediately, as requested by the port authority.

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