HOF152: HUYNH Hien Thanh

Huynh Hien Thanh was a trained veterinarian living in Vietnam. In 1986, he boarded a boat to leave the country. Introduced to fellow passengers as someone knowledgeable in astronomy, he was given the responsibility of steering the boat. At night he navigated by the stars and in the day, by the shadow of an incense stick. With choppy waves reaching the sides of the boat several times, and an engine on the verge of falling apart, Huynh felt that he and his passengers were on a thin edge between life and death. During the seven-day journey, the crew saw a few islands but couldn’t dock their boat. At one island, they came upon locals who took their gold then turned their rifles on them. By the time they made it to Indonesia’s Kuku Island, their propeller had broken loose and the boat’s wooden boards were splitting in many places and letting in water. Officials at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees told them they were lucky. Since they had arrived after the refugee camp had closed, they would not have been allowed to disembark if it had not been for the dilapidated condition of their boat.