Vietnamese boat people
After three decades of separation the Vietnamese boat people tell their stories.
On 01 October 1978, a group of over 300 Vietnamese refugees were dramatically rescued from stormy seas by a British merchant ship, the Wellpark.
This group, who became known as the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’, fled Vietnam in the mid-1970s because they felt that life was going to be untenable under the new communist government there.
Many had used their entire life savings to secure a place on one of the boats headed for neighbouring countries.
The group had set sail under the cover of darkness and soon ran into trouble in rough waters.
Vietnamese refugee on the Wellpark.
The engines and pumps stopped working properly, and the makeshift vessels started sinking. Panic set in, and the Boat People became certain that they would drown.
Diep Quan recalls “I had heard that we were going to sink quite soon, and that we probably had a few hours.
"And I did not swim, didn’t know how to swim. I couldn’t imagine […] what it’s like if water goes over your head. I didn’t know what it’s like to go underwater."
Another refugee, Huy, recalls that, "It was very dangerous, because the waves were very big, and a few people fell into the sea, including my mum.
"She’s a non-swimmer, but luckily someone grabbed her and pulled her up."
Wellpark to the rescue
In desperation, they set off their last flare, which amazingly attracted the attention of the Wellpark.
The Boat People were hauled up onto the merchant vessel, some being lifted up in nets.
Aboard the Wellpark.
For two weeks, the refugees lived on the Wellpark while world governments decided their fate. It was then decided that they would be brought to England.
The survivors were flown there and temporarily housed at Kensington Army Barracks, before being offered council homes across the capital.
In the intervening decades, the Boat People have dispersed to many different parts of the world.
Now, 30 years on from their dramatic rescue, the group have just had an emotional reunion in Los Angeles, USA.
There, they had the chance to meet some of the Wellpark crew and express their profound gratitude for the rescue that saved their lives.
last updated: 01/10/2008 at 18:23