4 Vietnamese divers poisoned to death from Malaysian shipwreck

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The shipwrecked Onnekas One of Malaysia has fallen apart off Vietnam's central coast. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

A Vietnamese military team will test gas samples taken from a shipwrecked Malaysian boat off Vietnam's central coast after four divers were poisoned to death Tuesday night.

Vo Van Thuan, 38, was first to die in the cockpit at the bow of the Onnekas One, while Van Cong Thang, 33, Phan Van Manh, 39, and Phan Van Hiep, 19, all gradually succumbed to the same fate while trying to save each other.

They were pumping water out of the boat when the pipe they were using became jammed. When Thuan went to dislodge it, he was exposed to gas that was leaking from the shipwreck.

Police have besieged the site and suspended the rescue mission to avoid further incidents of poisoning.

The four victims came from Ben Luc Salvage Company in the Mekong Delta province of Long An.

The military team is also helping retrieve the last of the victims' bodies, that of Thang. The other three victims' bodies were recovered by Ben Luc company.

Four other divers who tried to help were also poisoned and had to be rushed to hospital. They have recovered.

The Onnekas One, which weighs more than 3,000 tons, became stuck off the coast of Thua Thien-Hue Province last December while being towed to China to repair damage it sustained in a fire. 

Its bow and stern were severed and have been drifting in different directions ever since the wire connecting it to the tugboat broke in rough seas.

Shipmate, the Singapore firm which owns the boat, hired Saigon Shipbuilding and Marine Industry Company to help, which in turn hired Ben Luc Salvage.

Ben Luc workers began their efforts to retrieve the Onnekas One on Tuesday afternoon.

Thua Thien-Hue authorities gave the family of each victim VND4 million (US$190).

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