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Interview: Dalny Vostok survivors

Five brokerage firms in Rangoon that arranged for the Burmese seamen to work on the Dalny Vostok have had their licenses revoked for not informing the men they would be working on a fishing ship. The operator of the ship also faces action for illegally accepting the workers.

In a DVB interview – see below – one of the survivors, Htet Ko Ko, says he was not aware he would be working on a fishing boat until he was taken there by speedboat.

[pullquote]”As Burmese sailors on the same boat, we were like brothers.”[/pullquote]

The company that owned the sunken Russian trawler Dalny Vostok has committed to paying compensation to the crewmembers that survived the disaster, including 22 Burmese.

Each seaman will receive the equivalent in roubles of US$3,000. The families of those who were confirmed dead, who are still missing, will receive around US$15,000 at the end of April, according to the Burmese embassy in Moscow.

The families of those sailors who survived have previously been offered compensation of one million roubles (US$18,600) by the Russian government.

The Dalny Vostok sank with 132 crew members on board on 1 April off the Kamchatka peninsula in the Sea of Okhotsk. Of the 42 Burmese sailors on the ship, 22 were rescued while 16 bodies were recovered. Four remain missing, presumed dead.

The Russian government has provided the Burmese sailors with accommodation at the Pacific Plaza Hotel in southern Russia.

Donations from the Burmese embassy in Moscow, the family of Burmese Ambassador Tin Yu, and military officials studying in Russia reportedly total around 110,000 roubles (US$2,000) have been made to provide the survivors with clothing and other necessities.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that the 22 Burmese survivors will be returned to Burma on 15 April.

The Burmese embassy in Moscow also relayed that arrangements are being made to repatriate the bodies of 16 Burmese seamen who died in the disaster.

DVB spoke to two of the survivors to find out how they came to be aboard the Dalny Vostok, and what they experienced when it sank.

Kyaw Kyaw

Q: Are you and the rest of the survivors in good health?

A: Yes, all of the survivors are well, and none were injured.

Q: Can you explain what happened when the trawler sank off the Kamchatka Peninsula on 2 April?

A: It was around 5am in the morning on 2 April. Our trawler was fully loaded when they started pulling up the nets. The nets were full of fish so due to the weight, the trawler tipped over to one side and sank.

Q: Were you working at the time the incident took place? Did you fall into water straight away?

A: Yes, it happened while I was on shift. The water was extremely cold but not at freezing point. The trawler began tipping to one side so we all went over to the other side and stood in a line. Some began jumping onto lifeboats, and some waited until it began sinking. I jumped and landed in the water first, then climbed onto a lifeboat. Some crew made it and some died. I was just praying, chanting Buddhist mantras – I had nothing else in my mind.

Q: How many people were on the lifeboat you climbed into? When did the rescuers arrive, and what did you do before then?

A: There were six Burmese on the lifeboat and some Russians. And then the whole trawler sank. The captain made an SOS call when the trawler began sinking and within one hour, the rescue vessels arrived. There were over 20 in total and most of them were just other fishing trawlers. I was not injured, but the cold water had rendered me immobile on the lower half of my body. A Russian ship picked us up.

Q: You also faced some difficulties getting back to the shore and were stranded in the sea for a while. Can you tell us about that?

A: We had to wait for the bodies to be recovered, and the bad weather meant it took about three days to reach the shore.

Q: Being in that disaster, and having survived – how do you feel about it?

A: I was happy to be back on the shore, but am sad for those of my friends who died. As Burmese sailors on the same boat, we were like brothers to each other. I am sorry that I couldn’t save them.

Q: How did you come to be on the trawler?

A: I departed from Rangoon on 25 December and arrived in [South] Korea and from there I was taken to the trawler on a speedboat. It was on the coast but no longer on shore. I only found out it was a fishing trawler when I got aboard. Previously, I knew only that I was to work on a Russian ship.


Htet Ko Ko

Q: How much were you paid for your job on the trawler?

A: I got US$400 a month, but had only been paid for one month.

Q: Can you tell us of your experience when the trawler sank?

A: It happened while I was on duty. The trawler started tipping and sea water began flowing in. I climbed onto a higher deck, and could see the fishing net on the side. The power started flickering on and off. Not all of the Burmese were on the deck yet at that time – some had just put on their life vests. I was on the west end of the ship when it tipped over to the left side and sank.

Q: How do you feel that you survived? Have you made contact with your family yet?

A: I really miss my friends. I got in touch with my parents the other day.

Q: What next? The Burmese embassy has promised to issue you new passports. Are the any other difficulties?

A: It is difficult for us. We spent a lot of money [to get work on the trawler] and would like to speak to the officials what can be done about it – about whether we can be compensated. We also lost our documents in the disaster. I had only been working on the trawler for a couple of months before it sank.


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