Somerset

Vietnamese refugees thank rescuer 40 years on

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Media caption'I have a lot to be thankful for in my life', says Linh Thi Thuy Spearing

A family of Vietnamese refugees who settled in the UK have been reunited with the boat captain who rescued them from the South China Sea 40 years ago.

Linh Thi Thuy Spearing, her parents and three young brothers were among 1,003 people on two fishing boats picked up by the SS Sibonga in May 1979.

Mrs Spearing, who lives in Somerset, said they were "lost at sea for days" and were "blessed" to be rescued.

They have now met Capt Healey Martin to thank him for saving their lives.

Mrs Spearing was seven when she and her family, originally from Ho Chi Minh City, fled Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War.

The refugee crisis escalated when China invaded the country in 1979, and hundreds of thousands of "boat people" risked their lives to escape the conflict.

Image caption The family were among 1,003 "boat people" picked up by the SS Sibonga on 21 May 1979

The family were crammed among hundreds of refugees on a flimsy boat without food or water when they were picked up by Mr Martin's cargo ship.

Mrs Spearing's mother, Trinh Le, described it as a "scary, sad and horrible" experience.

Interviewed by the BBC at the time, Mr Martin said: "I reckon a lot of the children would have been dead within about 48 hours.

"Some of them when we brought them on board were unconscious and completely exhausted."

Mr Martin, who is now in his 80s, lives in a care home in Dungannon, Northern Ireland.

Mrs Spearing and her family, along with other refugees, flew to Northern Ireland on the 40th anniversary of their rescue to visit him and thank him personally.

She said when she met him, Mr Martin was "very composed" and "remembered a lot of details".

Image caption Interviewed at the time, Mr Martin said the child refugees would have died within 48 hours

"It was lovely and really emotional at the beginning, just to see him amongst all those people," she said.

"We got to see him as a family and say thank you. I wanted him to see his legacy - that he helped many people to give them all new beginnings."

Mrs Spearing's brother, Tuan Le, who was just four months old at the time of the rescue, added: "We wanted to pay back what was given to us - the opportunity."

Mr Martin thanked everyone for visiting him and said: "I'm very very glad that you've been very successful and the amazing distances some of you have travelled.

"You've all done well, we have doctors, surgeons, accountants, chemists, and I think it's a wonderful display of people."

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