In September, we shared an inspiring story which was originally featured in the Tyrone Courier. This touching piece told the story of a courageous ship Captain, and how his actions 40 years ago changed the lives of over 1,000 people.
Meet Captain Martin
In 1979, Healey Martin, was the Captain of the 'Sibonga' ship and was on a voyage between South East Asia and the west cost of Canada when the intense rescue began. One of the ship’s crew spotted a boat emitting distress signals. Under maritime law, a ship that accepts a distress call from a nearby vessel must provide support.
Captain Martin and his crew of 47 began a rescue mission of over 1,000 refugees. Captain Martin speaks of the harrowing scenes that played out before them, including watching a mother mourn the loss of her child, “We decided to take them onboard to help them. They were in very cramped poor conditions.
“It really distressed my wife Mildred. She loved those children, she cleaned and fed them…After we saw the first boat there was a second after that. They were all crammed in with no toilet facilities, no washing facilities. Half of them couldn't stand up.
"They all had to be cleaned and washed and fed. You suddenly go from feeding 47 to feeding 1,002 people."
After arriving in Hong Kong, the ship was unable to let the refugees disembark, and they could not continue on their voyage as it is illegal for ships to sail without enough lifeboats for all of the passengers.
After two weeks being anchored at sea, Healey got word that his employers Bank Line had organised to send airplanes to transport the refugees to the UK.
Reunited almost 40 years later
15-year-old Ann Bates was among the 1,000 refugees rescued by Captain Martin and his crew. Ann settled into life in England and worked as a Nurse at a hospital near Dover, where she met her husband. Ann, now lives outside London with her husband and family. Over the years Ann and Captain Martin have stayed in contact, and earlier this year Ann made the decision to meet with him at Nightingale Residential home.
Captain Martin explains, "Every Christmas she sends me a card, as it's around the anniversary of the rescue…She thinks of the date that they were picked up as her birthday. She has a good memory of what happened. There's a few others who I rescued that write to me, including a young girl who went to a convent in Colwyn Bay in Wales and they named her after the ship, Sibonga.
"It's a pleasant feeling and would be like seeing your own children passing their exams and moving on and getting jobs."
Speaking of the emotional reunion Captain Martin comments,
"It was emotional meeting with Ann. I couldn't picture her because when I picked her up she was a young girl and I had no idea what she looked like.
"While it was important we met, it brought back some painful memories. When she saw me she nearly jumped on top of me in the chair, she was like a live wire all day. We talked about everything, she was very excited and over the moon to be here.
"It's a nice feeling to know somebody had survived, had a good life and was getting on well. She called me her hero."
Thank you for sharing your story Captain Martin.