40 stranded refugees will die if help doesn't come soon

When the ship captain saw some shipwrecked survivors floating in the waters off the coast of Myanmar, he did what his conscience and the law of the sea dictated - he rescued them.

He managed to save 40 men before giving up his search for more survivors when darkness fell.

But now, Vietnamese captain Nguyen Dinh Hoa, 58, is caught in a bind.

His vessel, the Vietnamese-flagged MV Nosco Victory, has been stranded in international waters outside Singapore for about a week as countries in the region have refused to allow his ship into their waters.

The reason: the 40 people he rescued are believed to be Rohingya refugees.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, which has been embroiled in violence in recent months.

The ship is now running out of food to feed his crew of 24, let alone the refugees, some of whom are now weak and sickly after refusing to eat.

"We only have two days' worth of rice left for our 24 crew members," Capt Nguyen told The New Paper on Monday over the phone.

Describing the state of the 40 survivors, he painted a dire situation.

"A third of the 40 survivors are refusing to eat anything and many of them are falling sick, drifting in and out of consciousness," he said in Vietnamese.

He fears that many of the refugees will die if help does not arrive in the next few days.

Capt Nguyen had picked up the survivors on Dec 5 during a routine journey to Singapore after his ship had dropped off a cargo of iron ore at Bangladesh.

At about 10am, he and his crew spotted five men, mostly naked, struggling in the water without any life vests in the Bay of Bengal.

The crew threw floats attached to a long rope to the five men and pulled them on board the ship.

When Capt Nguyen informed his Hanoi head office, he was instructed to continue with the search-and-rescue operation to save as many survivors as possible.

He told TNP that he saw more than 40 people struggling in the water, but he had to prioritise by saving those who looked to be in "better physical condition".

Some of the survivors were drifting into unconsciousness after being pulled out and the crew members performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive them.

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