Sole rescued sailor floated in open ocean for 5 days

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Dau Ngoc Hung (L) arrives at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport January 4. Hung is the sole survivor out of 23 sailors who were on board the Vietnamese cargo vessel Vinalines Queen which reportedly sank off the Philippines on December 25 without sending distress signals.

The sole survivor from the Vinalines Queen, the Vietnamese cargo vessel that allegedly sank in 5,000-meter waters off the Philippines around Christmas time without sending any distress signal, arrived in Hanoi Wednesday with stories of his harrowing time floating at sea.

Dau Ngoc Hung, 31, merely told reporters, "All I want to do is meet the other sailors again" before he was whisked away from the airport by a representative of Vinalines, the company that owned the ship, who kept the media away from Hung.

But later he met reporters before leaving for his hometown, Nghe An.

"When the ship listed to one side, the officers in charge issued a warning to all sailors to wear life jackets and stay near the life boats. But the ship sank quickly and I was sucked into the water," he said.

"I managed to emerge after a while. Then I found a life raft."

But it was later capsized by strong winds and choppy seas, and Hung luckily found a lifeboat though it was badly damaged due to a possible collision with the sinking ship.

"I found some food, fresh water and medicines on the boat and stayed there until the London Courage found me," he said. He was referring to the British vessel that found and rescued him on December 30.

Nguyen Que Duong, a Vinalines official and a former ship captain, said a sinking ship creates intense suction making Hung's survival "a miracle."

Nguyen Anh Vu, general director of the Vietnam Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Center, quoted Hung as saying the ship straightened after listing to one side.

But it listed a second time and sank quickly, he said, adding it might have hit a large object.

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Vinalines Queen, one of the largest vessels owned by the state-owned Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), lost contact on December 25 when it was at 20°N and 123-47.1°E, northeast of the Philippines's Luzon Island.

Since then foreign rescue forces have been searching in vain for signs of the ship, which had been on its way from Morowali in Indonesia to Ningde in China with 54,000 tons of nickel ore. They merely found an oil slick near the site, and called off their efforts on December 29, a day before Hung was rescued.

Hung, believed to be the only survivor, was picked up some 350 kilometers from the spot where the Vinalines Queen was last heard from, according to Vinalines.

Nguyen Canh Viet, Vinalines general director, rejected accusations that the company had been late in responding.

"It is common to lose communication with a ship. We only ask for rescue efforts when we get an SOS. So far, there has been no [SOS from the Vinalines Queen] via satellite."

The ship's captain had been properly trained, had three years' experience and had reported a 20-degree list [before they lost communication], he said.

It was Vinalines' "most serious disaster" to date, he said.

The ship was built in Japan in 2005 and had an advanced self-protection system that sent out emergency signals in dangerous situations allowing rescuers to detect its location even if it was under water, the company said.

But since it went missing, Vinalines Queen had not sent any signal, officials said.

Vu said his agency had expanded the search area to certain coral islands to the north of Luzon.

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