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THE COMPASSIONATE CATCH


On Aug. 8, 2004, the Vietnamese community of Westminster, California, celebrated one of the kindest and bravest acts performed by a stranger on them. On Nov. 13, 1985, ninety-six Vietnamese refugees despaired for their lives and their families' lives when the engine of the boat carrying them across the South China Sea went dead. The boat people crammed onto the rickety boat could see a tropical storm headed their way. For four days they had watched the ships passed: 1, 2, 3, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, but none would stop to rescue them.


When the 51st ship passed, the refugees waved, screamed, and clamored in vain. The South Korean fishing ship traveled on but turned around 10 minutes later to save them. On board the ship, Jeon, a captain employed by Koryo Wonyang Corporation for 16 years, was returning from the Indian Ocean with 25 sailors and more than 350 tons of tuna.


As Jeon’s ship, the Kwang Myung 87, approached them, the captain could see the dire straits the people were in. He called the sailors together because it was against company policy to pick up boat people, but Jeon told them he’d take responsibility. The sailors told Jeon they were with him.


Only years later did the refugees know what had happened to Jeon. The shipping company fired him for picking up the boat people against the company’s rules. He couldn’t find another captain’s job and survived through his savings and by helping out at friends' businesses.


On Aug. 8, 2004, nineteen years after the dramatic boat rescue, hundreds of people in the Vietnamese community of Westminster paid back a debt they can never repay. They honored the ship’s captain, Je Yong Jeon, after survivor Peter Cuong Nguyen managed to track him down." Nguyen said, “He has the biggest heart. Without his rescue, there would be no today. We would have been dead."


Jeon, now 62, shrugged off the compliments, saying, "If I wasn’t there, other people might have done the same thing that I did. As a fisherman for 25 years, I’ve caught a lot of fish. And during the 25 years, it was with God’s grace that we found the boat people and were able to save all of them."



SOURCE: Victor Yap in "Hero" on www.sermoncentral.com. Citation: Los Angeles Times, 8-9-04, "Fishing Captain Who Saved 96 Boat People in '85 Is Honored."

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