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Top of the tree in so many ways, Singapore just lacks a heart

Why Singapore Lacks a Real Heart

Sunday, December 16, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Where did Singapore lose its heart? We visited the go-ahead city-state a while back and admired the stunning new developments, the efficiency of its taxis, the cleanliness of its streets.

Then came this week's sad account of the Vietnamese cargo vessel whose captain took a courageous decision to rescue 40 survivors from a shipwreck.

A second vessel plucked nine more from the Andaman Sea. Another 210 probably drowned when the ill-fated Nagu sank.

Both rescue vessels are now reported to be at anchor off Singapore as a UN agency tries to negotiate with Malaysia to take the 49 survivors, who may possibly even be Rohingya, the stateless Muslims from Burma.

Why Malaysia? Why not Singapore?

Earlier in the week, Singapore, the first-world country where prosperity is evident at every corner, turned away the shipwreck survivors.

According to Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority, it was all the fault of the courageous captain. He should have gone to the nearest port - which would have meant turning around - rather than continuing on to Singapore.

We can't speak for the captain of the Nosco Victory but perhaps he foolishly thought that Bandgladesh already had enough refugees, and that Singapore might be a better option.

Little did he know about Singapore's black soul. Prosperous Singapore was the destination for many refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

In 1975, Singapore was the first country to stop the boatpeople from coming. Other countries, including Thailand and Malaysia, followed.

Although 5000 eventually reached Singapore via commercial ships, which picked them up at sea, thousands of others died.

One reader of an online site publishing details of this fascinating piece of Singapore history wrote:

''I was in the spore navy at that time and those refugees that were intercepted before they reached our coast were provided with food and water and towed out and left to the mercy of the sea. looking back i think it was a shameful thing to do, the boats were definately not seaworthly and most of them perished at sea, the lucky ones made it to australia. how many died after we pushed them back into the ocean, nobody will ever know. it was like a death sentense with a very slim chance of clemency. could we have been more humane and given these people shelter until a third country decides to take them? how would you have felt if you were one of them being treated as if your life is almost worthless?

''and by the way, some of the boats which were in better condition were seized by the navy and painted in the navy colours and became part of the fleet. what a joke. anyway this sad part of our history, of how we were so cruel to our fellow human beings will never be taught in schools or mentioned in public.''

Indeed. Singapore has progressed in remarkable ways in the 21st century. Its people now rank as among the most prosperous in Asia.

But lost at sea 40 years ago, along with those thousands of Vietnamese boatpeople, was Singapore's heart.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


I think you'll find that right or wrong, Singapore is in the majority, when it comes to being reluctant to accept refugees of any type.
They certainly wouldn't be accepted here, where the shameful practice of towing them back out to sea is still in use.
Perhaps the UN are negotiating with Malaysia, as they're a Muslim state/ and may be more sympathetic to the plight of other Muslims.

Posted by chrisT on December 16, 2012 13:57


Why would? IF as first stated with the survivors been plucked from the ocean after 30 hours which in it selfs sounds very dubious, would you then sail for another 3 days if the survivors are in such a critical condition? espec when you could dock after a few hours at a closer port so they could get medical help? (Surely that does not make much sense) If the rest of the world practiced laws simialr to Singapore in almost every instance as they do, the world would be a far better place.

Non Singaporean...

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 16, 2012 14:02


As a regular visitor to Singapore in the late 1970's, I was shocked & dismayed when I returned in 1994 to find a soulless concrete jungle whose population's sole topic of conversation was money. In the 1970's neighbors were friends. By 1994, nobody knew their neighbor. They might be a member state of ASEAN, but only for what they can get out, not what they could put in.

Posted by Logic on December 16, 2012 14:22


The world is full of bleeding hearts. Singapore just has strict requirements for granting entry to persons from other countries. Singapore also has the ability to enforce these laws, regardless of who bleats about them. AS said of Phuket many times to outsiders, if you don not like the place don't visit it. I applaud you Singapore for standing up to your sovereign rights and not buckling under the weight of the tears of the cry babies. Keep Singapore clean.

Posted by Dun on December 16, 2012 14:46


heartless bastard!

Posted by naboi on December 16, 2012 15:03


yes..shame, shame, shame on Singapore, but wait, I wonder how many of these boats are first "helped on" by Thailand. Where does the first shame, shame, shame belong?

Posted by dbate_me on December 16, 2012 15:09


Well we can not afford to accommodate them, why? Simple country which let refugee in, example, refugee became problem, drug paddling, prositution, gangs etc. Check out Ausstrialia

Posted by Lackheart48 on December 16, 2012 15:48


No comments on some of these comments Mr ED I'm shocked

Posted by Scunner on December 16, 2012 18:58


Why are you only attacking Singapore. I have been there over 20 times and I am always amazed at how wealthy, organised and developed it is for what was a disease infested island 100 years ago. It has also been voted the No.1 place in the world to set up business. As we know this is 2012 and money talks more than ever. I believe this was quoted by a senior Thai politician in the last week. I do not notice Thailand taken a better approach, I remember when the armmy pushed them back out to sea, fact. Perhaps the real shame is on the Muslim countries Malaysia and the largest in population terms in the world Indonesia which is only about 50 kms from Singapore.

Posted by Happy Farang on December 16, 2012 19:05


@ Naboi - exactly what I was thinking ! Allow me to repeat - you heartless bastards ! Yes, each country has to protect itself but we're talking about 49 people who were left stranded in the sea ! At this point it becomes more than politics - it's people's lives that probably need saving - do you think the Captain would have risked this for nothing ? He's a fellow sailor and not about leave people to drown ! Courageous is right.

As for the Navy veteron's account. I feel sorry for you. It has obviously haunted you to this day. IMO - one more reason to not join an organisation where you have to follow orders that you know will result in the death of desperate people.

Posted by James on December 16, 2012 20:29


These are not only shipwreck survivors - but also economic migrants.

Why should economic migrants who travel in non seaworthy vessels have priority over hardworking, taxpaying workpass holders??

Posted by Yang Guo Jiang on December 16, 2012 21:55


Proper refugees don't usually have money. Nufsed.

Posted by Ga on December 17, 2012 06:17


Total nonsence James and Logic... Singpaore would have helped if this ship went down off its waters, the ship sailed for 3 days when it could have docked after a few hours in many other countries? "Ask yourself why" Singapore should be a country held in high esteem for all it has acheived in terms of growth, policies, plus great public housing, public transport etc. As a non Singapoearn this article is a disgraceful attack espec when Im watching this sad situation from America again, now this is a very sick country and society, not Singapore.

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 17, 2012 08:28


Perhaps all the money worshipers should get away from the office and go to see how some real people are living in this world. It would certainly open their minds and might even turn them into better people. We are all human no matter how rich, poor, intelligent or otherwise. It's nice to be important but it's also important to be nice. Bollocks to Singapore bureaucracy.

Posted by Mac on December 17, 2012 08:29


Dear Editor... may I ask why such an article attacking Singapore in this manner is even on your newspaper? Yes report the initial story, but why the follow up attacks on this country? Seems very strange to attack a friendly nation in this fashion.

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 17, 2012 09:22

Editor Comment:

The Japanese attacked Singapore in WWII, Total Rubbish. We've merely pointed out that Singapore, the richest country in the region, turns away shipwreck survivors and would-be refugees. It would be remiss of us to go along with the pretense that Singapore is doing the right thing. For all its virtues, Singapore doesn't have a heart.


Thanks Editor... do you actually know why the captian sailed for 3 more days when he could have docked at many ports in many countries within a day or sooner? Malaysia and Indonesia are just miles away from Singapore with many ports, are they all equally with out HEART for not accepting? Why not attack them all in your paper today.

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 17, 2012 10:16

Editor Comment:

We don't attack countries or people and we are not a newspaper, Total Rubbish. We cannot read the captain's mind but in our view, whichever port he deemed best for the welfare of his ship and its unwanted passengers should accept them. That was traditionally the case until nations invented rules to suit themselves.


Come come, clean our hawker centre tables. As long as the 50 of you don't mind squeezing into a container parked in Tuas.

You know what?

The f**king captain didn't think of dropping them off in Thailand, even though they were picked up in the Andaman Sea?

Says more about Thailand.

Land of smiles. Ya right.

Posted by Clean my F**king Table on December 17, 2012 10:24

Editor Comment:

Count the refugees in Thailand. Thousands of them. Thousands. Compare that with the number of refugees recorded in Singapore in 2010 - seven. Seven refugees! Singapore never smiles.

Swearing proves only your lack of class.


Sorry i have to disagree with you editor.. you have attacked openly a nation and its people by running this "Singapore lacks a heart" is that not attacking this country? Every country reserves it rights to allow what it sees best for its citizens, again Singapore does one hell of a job in most counts and is why it ranks number one in most things, what do you prefer in your country? If you are not attacking this country, perhaps you should apoligize to any Singaporean reading this that you did not mean they lacked a heart. It is an offensive statement as i know many Singaporeans whom donated greatly for the Tsunami.

Posted by Total Rubbbish on December 17, 2012 10:57

Editor Comment:

We know Singapore has money and probably spends a small fraction of it on needy causes outside Singapore. That proves only that Singapore is a wealthy country. When it comes to having a heart, Singapore ranks a dismal last in the region . . . and possibly in the world, by any measure. We're non-violent and wouldn't use a word such as ''attack'' for an appropriately accurate news analysis. Singaporeans can decide for themselves what this incident says about their country. They don't need you to speak for them.


If the Singapore Government had been pro-active, they could have admitted the more than five thousand Vietnamese refugees who could later provide the labour/manpower that we are presently in need of. Just imagine, the present Vietnamese would have been the 2nd or 3rd generation and would have done National Service and assimilated into true blooded Singaporean spirit. They would have been more well mannered than our PRCs, Filipinos and other new immigrants! They would now be contributing economically to the country!

Posted by Allo! Allo! on December 17, 2012 11:33


I think the pot ( Thailand ), is calling the kettle ( Singapore ), black? Singapore turns away 40 people nobody wants, not even the Muslim states. Thailand is deporting hundreds of thousands people that Thailand desperately needs to build its buildings. Thailand take the forest out of your eye before you try to remove the splinter out of your neighbours eye.

Posted by Dun on December 17, 2012 12:47


For those who would prefer light rather than heat before they express their views, they might wish to refer to the document 'Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea'

Then decide what the Captain's priorities were before and after he/she saved those lives.

Posted by Tony on December 17, 2012 13:08


Well done Singapore for providing its people with a reasonably safe city, brilliant infrasture, more than a reasonable standard of living and transport for all, which when compared to the rest of the world and even our so called civilzed countries is second to none. Singapore has far bigger hearts than the rest of us put together because they have the balls and work ethics to provide the right environment for all in their own country. When someone gets the REAL facts and not made up nonsence on why the captain sailed 3 extra days with supposedly very sick people on board please let us all know. Much prefer fact than fiction even if we are on fantasy island.

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 17, 2012 15:12

Editor Comment:

Everyone defines whether countries are civilised differently and you definition appears to come straight from the Ministry of Information, Total Rubbish.


Yes editor it comes from someone whom lived 20 years in Singapore living in the public housing system, using public transport daily and having Singaporean children that enjoy amazing public schools and facilities, not from the ministry. You have ZERO right to tell a nation of people they have no heart over one issue which you still can't supply a simple reply to. "why the captain sailed for 3 days when he could have docked days before?" Equally civilised nations don't have riots every few years like England for example or mass shootings in schools etc as on a regular basis as in America. The youth of Singapore in the main show great respect, are well mannered which is a far grow form the west. Maybe you should visit Singapore and visit some schools, use the local transport, meet the people and see how civilsed a society Singapore is.

Posted by Total Rubbish on December 18, 2012 10:07

Editor Comment:

You've clearly been propagandised. People have every right to offer a view on this and every other issue, Total Rubbish. ''Civilsed'' societies achieve a balance between money and compassion. ''Civilsed'' societies leave people free to enjoy life so much they actually want to procreate, often. ''Civilised'' societies (this one's for you) respect the views of others, even if they disagree. And ''civilised'' societies greet shipwreck survivors with open arms, despite rules and regulations.


Silly article, the kind of stuff 12-year -olds write for their school essays. If Singapore 'lacks a heart', what about Thailand, whose navy not so long ago pulled a boat full of Rohingyas out to sea to certain death? Having lived in Thailand and Singapore, give me 'heartless' Singapore any time.

Posted by Swami K. on December 18, 2012 18:12

Editor Comment:

It wasn't the Thai Navy, Swami. Look a bit deeper into your crystal ball. Thailand has thousands of refugees yet according to statistics online, Singapore has seven. That's a handful, with two left over. Let that be the measure of ''heart.''


i like it

Posted by shamsher on December 18, 2012 19:24


The reason the skipper did not go to nearest port was most likely to do with his cargo. I work at sea and a ship carrying x,y,z has to be in port at a certain time with that x,y,z or face consequences. End of. If the good are perishable, the timeframe is very tight. I am sure the skipper phoned the emergency line at his company and was told to proceed to Singapore, or find a new job.
At least he picked those people up. If he sailed past, he would not have had a refugee problem, but his conscience did not allow him to pretend he did not see people in the water. Believe me he thought about it .....

Posted by Geoff on December 21, 2012 15:40


As an old merchant sailor myself I can understand why the Vietnamese Captain did what he did. A seaman goes to the aid of his fellow human in distress at sea without question. Since Singapore was his next port-of-call he probably took it upon himself to care for the refugees for the duration of the journey south thinking that Singapore was a modern and wealthy country that had the best facilities and connections. He did not reckon on the cold-minded, calculative nature of Singapore's response. The least we could have done was to render immediate medical aid and provide them with food,water and dry clothes. Individually we are not an unkind people and my governments "not in my backyard" attitude puzzled and embarrassed me.

Posted by Brian Vittachi on December 23, 2012 10:34


It is indeed very inhuman of us to turn away the desperate Rohinyas and we are now very shameful in front of the whole wide world. All because of the kind of people in charge.

Posted by Robin Hood on December 23, 2012 16:33


I'm a Singaporean and the article is absolutely right. you should look the way Singapore exploits cheap foreign labor at the expense of its citizens. the government talk about GDP all the time and pay their own ministers million dollar salaries. do you know our PM is paid 5 times more than Obama? Corruption is legalised here.

Posted by Alex Tan on December 24, 2012 11:34


'Its people now rank as among the most prosperous in Asia.' And its people ranked as the most emotionless in the world.

Posted by findlay on December 26, 2012 18:29


Wealth and progress without humanity is worthless. The policies of Singapore vis a vis refugees are shameful and will strip this economically-successful city-state of any entitlement to being a developed country. Turning poor helpless refugees away to face certain death is a crime against humanity. No one should condone such behavior. On the contrary, it should be condemned and the people responsible should be brought to a world tribunal to face justice.

Posted by Anonymous on December 30, 2012 18:19

Editor Comment:

Has Singapore turned poor helpless refugees away to face certain death recently? I guess the concern is that it could happen if they let refugees land again and became attractive as a destination . . . so the heartless policy has its rationale.


Should just send the refugees to Malaysia. Singapore do not have the space to cater for such situation. Dear Ed, you should not hit out on Singapore just because they turn down the refugees. Every country has its own right. Singapore is just a dot in the map. Thailand and Malaysia have more space. Ed, perhaps you can provide some space for these people?

Posted by Crap on February 19, 2013 14:31

Editor Comment:

The real issue is about persuading Burma to stop the appalling ethnic cleansing and treat the Rohingya as humans. Singapore, where the Burmese elite bank, has the power to force change . . . but no willpower that isn't connected to its wallet. When it comes to human rights, it's difficult to decide which is worse: the brutes implementing the policy, or those who stand by and do nothing, especially those who have the power to save lives and don't. No wonder Singaporeans are so unhappy.

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