Vietnamese refugees said Thursday that about 130 countrymen drowned two weeks ago when their overloaded 30-foot wooden boat capsized and sank near a Japanese tanker in the South China Sea.
Authorities said first reports of the March 8 accident did not emerge until Monday, when 35 survivors of the accident on the high seas between Vietnam and Malaysia arrived in Yokohama.
It was the latest reported accident involving Vietnamese fleeing political repression and economic hardship. The “boat people” risk piracy and disaster in hopes of achieving asylum and permanent resettlement outside Vietnam.
Surviving refugees said the boat collided with the 239,000-ton Nissei-Maru and sank, but the tanker’s captain said he believed a wave capsized the boat.
165 Reported Aboard
Survivors said their boat was carrying 165 people. A Nagasaki refugee center official said the boat had left Long An in southern Vietnam on March 4. Many passengers were seasick and were suffering from lack of water, and they had been trying to approach the tanker for help, survivors said.
“The tanker came very close to our boat, and the waves pushed us into the ship,” survivor Chan Kin Kan told the Japan Broadcasting Corp. late Thursday.
“Our boat capsized. The children and others trapped in the boat were drowned,” Chan said.
The boat overturned and sank after hitting the propeller at the back of the Nissei-Maru, the refugee official quoted survivors as saying.
Tanker Had Stopped
The tanker captain, Yasuo Kawamura, had stopped and prepared ladders to take the refugees on board. He said in a TV interview that the reason for the sinking was unclear.
The Nissei-Maru conducted an all-day search and rescued 35 refugees, then sailed for Singapore, where the refugees were refused entry, news reports said. The refugees were taken to Yokohama after Japan granted them entry.
Last year, more than 45,000 “boat people” landed in Southeast Asian countries, compared with fewer than 30,000 in 1987.
Under a new policy by the Assn. of Southeast Asian nations, recently arrived “boat people” will be put into temporary camps and screened to determine if they are genuine refugees fleeing for political purposes or just economic refugees seeking a better life in the West.
The economic refugees are returned to Vietnam.