Dungannon man Healey Martin who celebrated his 80th birthday on 12th July, last year at the Nightingale Care Home, 34 Old Eglish Road Dungannon, pictured with carer Danielle Donnelly and staff nurse
A GET together of Vietnamese refugees in Dungannon to thank a former mariner from the town for saving their lives four decades earlier resulted in a row between some of the refugees and a walkout.
The thank you afternoon took place on Tuesday 21st May in the Nightingale Nursing Home in Dungannon, where former sea captain Healey Martin resides.
It was on 21st May 1979 that Mr Martin, who captained a merchant ship, rescued civilians from sinking boats in the middle of the South China Sea.
Healey Martin, who was captain of the cargo vessel the “Sibonga”, saved hundreds of civilians fleeing Communist Vietnam after his ship came across the crowded sinking boats.
Now aged 80, Mr Martin's ship was on a voyage between South East Asia and the west coast of Canada when the dramatic rescue took place.
In a previous interview with the Courier at the Dungannon Care Home, Mr Martin spoke about the moment the ship's crew spotted the boats carrying 600 refugees emitting distress signals.
Under maritime law, a ship that receives a distress call from a nearby vessel must provide assistance and he took all the refugees aboard his ship and fed, clothed and give them first aid.
After the rescue they arrived in Hong Kong, but Captain Martin was told that the refugees were unable to disembark. He was forced to anchor the ship for two weeks until his employers, Bank Line, sent planes to transport them to the UK. Forty years to the day, 30 of the refugees travelled from all over the world for an afternoon at the Dungannon home to say thank you to Mr Martin for saving their lives.
Staff at the home had agreed beforehand that the Press could cover the event, but when Press representatives arrived in the Nightingale Care Home, they were informed by one of the visitors that it was a private party and they could not carry out interviews or take photos.
They also claimed that Mr Martin did not wish local Press to be present. A senior manager at the Care Home who was also present then asked the Press to leave.
Other visitors objected to the Press being asked to leave and one refugee from London walked out of the get together in tears as she had requested the Press to attend.
One onlooker said: “Captain Martin went out of his way to rescue and look after the refugees 40 years ago. It is just a shame that those present at the thank you party could not afford the same courtesy when visiting Mr Martin in his home town of Dungannon last Tuesday.”