A U.S. Navy captain, his voice choking with emotion, said today that he would have rescued Vietnamese boat people his ship found in the South China Sea if he had been correctly informed of their desperate plight.
Capt. Alexander G. Balian, 48, of Los Angeles accused critics of unfairly judging him in hindsight.
He has been before a Navy court-martial since Feb. 10 on charges of failing to adequately assist the more than 80 Vietnamese refugees his ship, the amphibious transport Dubuque, encountered June 9 as it sailed for the Persian Gulf. Thirty-one of the refugees died, and survivors resorted to cannibalism before they were rescued by Philippine fishermen June 27 after 37 days at sea, United Nations officials said.
Balian said that if he had known the desperate conditions aboard the Vietnamese craft, "there is no doubt in my mind I would tow them to my side and embark them. That's what I did on two previous occasions."
He said he ordered his executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Stanley Halter, to determine if the refugee boat was seaworthy.
"Finally, the report came back 'no engine,' and I surmised they had a good sail," Balian said.
He also said he was told that "they could make it on their own if we gave them food and water," which were provided.
Under cross-examination, Balian insisted he was not responsible for the refugees' resorting to cannibalism.
"I am being charged with giving insufficient assistance," he said. "What is sufficient assistance? You're saying I should have embarked them. I should have embarked them--on hindsight."
Balian was relieved of command of the Dubuque in August.