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Rejecting Shipwreck Survivors Shows Singapore Lacks a Heart

Top of the tree in so many ways, Singapore just lacks a heart (Photo - Phuket Wan)

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian
Phuket Wan
December 16, 2012 

News Analysis
PHUKET: Where did Singapore lose its heart? We visited the go-ahead city-state a while back and admired the stunning new developments, the efficiency of its taxis, the cleanliness of its streets. 

Then came this week's sad account of the Vietnamese cargo vessel whose captain took a courageous decision to rescue 40 survivors from a shipwreck. 

A second vessel plucked nine more from the Andaman Sea. Another 210 probably drowned when the ill-fated Nagu sank. 

Both rescue vessels are now reported to be at anchor off Singapore as a UN agency tries to negotiate with Malaysia to take the 49 survivors, who may possibly even be Rohingya, the stateless Muslims from Burma.

Why Malaysia? Why not Singapore? 

Earlier in the week, Singapore, the first-world country where prosperity is evident at every corner, turned away the shipwreck survivors.

According to Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority, it was all the fault of the courageous captain. He should have gone to the nearest port - which would have meant turning around - rather than continuing on to Singapore. 

We can't speak for the captain of the Nosco Victory but perhaps he foolishly thought that Bandgladesh already had enough refugees, and that Singapore might be a better option. 

Little did he know about Singapore's black soul. Prosperous Singapore was the destination for many refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. 

In 1975, Singapore was the first country to stop the boatpeople from coming. Other countries, including Thailand and Malaysia, followed. 

Although 5000 eventually reached Singapore via commercial ships, which picked them up at sea, thousands of others died. 

One reader of an online site publishing details of this fascinating piece of Singapore history wrote: 

''I was in the spore navy at that time and those refugees that were intercepted before they reached our coast were provided with food and water and towed out and left to the mercy of the sea. looking back i think it was a shameful thing to do, the boats were definately not seaworthly and most of them perished at sea, the lucky ones made it to australia. how many died after we pushed them back into the ocean, nobody will ever know. it was like a death sentense with a very slim chance of clemency. could we have been more humane and given these people shelter until a third country decides to take them? how would you have felt if you were one of them being treated as if your life is almost worthless?

''and by the way, some of the boats which were in better condition were seized by the navy and painted in the navy colours and became part of the fleet. what a joke. anyway this sad part of our history, of how we were so cruel to our fellow human beings will never be taught in schools or mentioned in public.''

Indeed. Singapore has progressed in remarkable ways in the 21st century. Its people now rank as among the most prosperous in Asia.

But lost at sea 40 years ago, along with those thousands of Vietnamese boatpeople, was Singapore's heart.

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