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Stranded sailors praise community’s kindness

Stranded sailors who lost everything when their ship went up in flames have thanked the Bermuda Government and community for their hospitality.

Captain Zi You Wong and his 18 crew members, one of whom has since died, were rescued in the early hours of last Tuesday by bulk carrier K Coral after the chief officer on board reported seeing smoke.

Their rescuers dropped the crew off in Bermuda on Friday and one of the men, who was in a critical condition, was flown to the United States for medical treatment accompanied by another crew member.

The remaining 16 crew members have found shelter at the Bermuda Sailors Home, which is providing all the necessities with help from the Royal Bermuda Regiment, the Salvation Army, the Barn, Elbow Beach Hotel and Rosewood Tucker's Point, Mad Hatters Restaurant, the Bermuda High School for Girls and a host of community volunteers.

Mr Wong, speaking through translator Robert Zhan, extended a big thank you to all those who had gone out of their way to make him and his crew comfortable.

“Everyone here has been treating him and his crew really well,” Mr Zhan said. “For him, it really feels like home. Everyone is really nice and hospitable, offering food, clothes and accommodation.

“He also feels that the Government has done a really good job in terms of allowing them into the country.”

According to the duty officer of the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre, the sailors had already abandoned the fishing vessel Pioneer when they were discovered about 900 nautical miles southeast of the island.

Seventeen of the men were quickly recovered from the water. Another was rescued a short while later and, with the assistance of the bulk carrier Cherry Point, the final crew member was located following a six-hour search.

On Wednesday afternoon, a US Air Force aircraft deployed pararescue swimmers that were parachuted on board the K Coral to provide medical assistance to the crew in advance of their arrival in Bermuda.

Mr Zahn said that when Mr Wong and his crew first arrived, “they were obviously really anxious”.He said they did not know anything about Bermuda and feared they would be left to fend for themselves, but so many people had made them “feel really comfortable”.

“He really appreciates everything the Government has done for them and the people here who have volunteered,” he added.

Stefan Gitschner, the general manager of the Bermuda Sailors' Home in Hamilton, which looks after sailors in distress as part of its mission, told The Royal Gazette that they had been trying to make the sailors as comfortable as possible.

“We've just had a really great response from the community,” he explained. “It's been a rough time for these guys but we've made them as comfortable as we can under the circumstances.”

He added that they are just hoping to get them home safe and wanted to make sure they are provided for in the mean time.

“They all seem very kind, very appreciative,” he said.

Mr Gitschner added that local Indonesians stopped by on Sunday, while the Mad Hatters Restaurant had been providing a hot meal daily for the men. Benjamin Jewett, head chef and part-owner of the restaurant, said they were happy to help and that it was a natural response to the situation.

“We've dealt with stranded seafarers before. Just not this many really,” he added. “It has to be done, so you step up and do it. These guys are hungry, you feed them — it's a natural thing.”

Meanwhile, the Royal Bermuda Regiment had provided camp beds for all the sailors and captain Duncan Simons, adjutant of the regiment, said: “We are happy to assist where we can. The regiment is a valuable community resource with considerable amounts of equipment at its disposal and we're versatile enough to react whenever we're needed.”

According to Bermuda Sailors Home volunteer John Dale, Elbow Beach Hotel provided sheets and Rosewood Tucker's Point provided towels.

The Salvation Army and the Barn supplied clothing and the Bermuda High School is letting the sailors use their shower facilities.

Tracy MacPhee, a lab technician at the school, praised students who gave up their fruits and snacks for the sailors after hearing about their plight.

“I was really pleased with the kids,” she said, adding that some of the teachers also went home and collected toiletries.

Joseph Simas, of local shipping agency Meyer Agencies, has been helping to make arrangements for the sailors along with Michael Choo, of Imperial Shipping Logistic Company Limited — the actual agent for the shipping vessel. Both men applauded the efforts of the local community.

“The Mariner's Club have been excellent,” Mr Simas said. “They have gone above and beyond. They provide everything for us.”

According to Mr Simas and Mr Choo, inquiries with the local port authorities are continuing and the sailors were now being interviewed by officials.

“If everything goes well, hopefully they will be going home in the next week,” Mr Simas added.

He explained that various embassies have been contacted to arrange for travel documents, as none of the sailors have passports because “everything went down with the ship”.

Mr Choo, who arrived on the island on Friday, added: “The entire community came together and provided everything. They're good people, the Bermudians. I haven't seen anything better.”

Emotional message: Captain Zi You Wong, back centre, with crew members, who were left stranded after their fishing boat caught fire (Photograph by Sideya Dill)

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Published June 28, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 28, 2016 at 8:02 am)

Stranded sailors praise community’s kindness

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