Skyluck - A Journey through the Open Sea

Since April 1975, more than three-quarter million "boat people" have fled from Vietnam by fishing boats, large or small, and by "planned" cargo ship to pursue better life in a foreign country regardless the danger of the captivation from the Philippines pirate, the swallow of the ocean wave, or the sinking of the wooden fishing boat. Whether one had fled alone or fled with the family or friends, the risk of being swallowed by the sea was still the same. Of the thousands that had successfully reached the "destination," no one knew how many of others ended up as the meal of the day for the ocean wild life or victims of the ocean pirates. Regardless what had triggered the fleeing; the outcome was the same - lived to tell the story or died to become the dinner of the sea lives.

In the mid January 1979, the Skylucker had jointed the fleeing to begin its own journey to the open sea. People from all kinds of life, variety of cultures, different cities and purpose had boarded the waiting vessel to pursue their dream. This began the journey of about 3,466 "boat people' sailing through the open sea on the 3,506-ton Skyluck disguised under the name "KYLU", a rusty freighter under Panamanian registry.

These Skyluck passengers had left the Bến Tre Harbor with the "arrangement" from the Vietnamese government. Passengers were transported to the Skyluck vessel from many wooden fishing boats in different sizes and shapes. The "mother" ship had been anchored in the Vietnam open water for several days to accept her children with her "open" arms willingly or unwillingly.

When Skyluck started her transporting, she was over-loaded with about 3400 children - about 1,500 more children than she had planned to "nurture." Her children were now forced to "sardine" into eight cabins. Planned food and water supplies had to stretch out thinly to accommodate the unexpected extras. Better or additional foods could be purchased through "special" trading between the passengers and the Skyluck’s sailors and captain. Two pieces of sandwiches and ¾ cup of "water" milk were the meal for the day for each passenger. The unsatisfied passengers had voiced complains throughout the ship. The captain had to make some false promises to soothe the riots.

Five days into the journey, the "volunteer" passengers were forced to prepare foods for the rest of the crews in exchange for larger share of the meal. Being run out of sandwiches, porridges (a.k.a. congee or rice soup) became the substitute. Porridges were prepared in the gigantic crude-oil tank. The result was a taste that was out of this world - a touch of crude oil in every bite. Nevertheless, the "new invention" was still considered the gold for hungry passengers.

Out of these passengers, only 2664 people had reached Hong Kong. About 600 passengers, unfortunately, were tricked to land on the Palawan Island in Philippines. One new-born had died during the sailing.

The Skylucker reached Hong Kong in February of 1979. As reported by the National Geographic November 1979 issue, the Skylucker "were not allowed to disembark, and for the next twenty three weeks they lived on the vessel. The people were fed with foods and provided with medical services, but they grew restless and began hunger strike and protests. Finally, in late June as heavy winds and rough water pounded the SKYLUCK someone aboard cuts the anchor chains. The vessel drifted to nearby Lamma Island, where it beached on the rocks. Many of the refugees jumped overboard and fled into the hills, but they were later rounded up and put into a camp."

"Life in floating limbo lasted 23 weeks for 2664 passengers on the freighter SKYLUCK. Quarantined offshore for most of that time, the ship drifted aground after its anchor chains were cut. Authorities then made room ashore for her human cargo." The National Geographic made this statement with the picture of the SKYLUCK vessel pleading for land - "HAVE A PITY ON US LET US LAND, PLEASE."

The Skyluckers went through bitter and sweet life together. They'd been through hunger and thirst. They'd wept for joy and sadness. They'd gone through fasting and strikes. They'd survived sickness and disease. They’d sadden by the broken promises, and angered by the nonsense excuse. They'd withstood the sun, the rain, and the storm. At last, the wait was over. Skyluckers had made the touchdown themselves forcefully with the help of the nature enemy - the killer storm. On June 29th, 1979, the Skyluck officially ended her journey to the open sea. She had landed herself to give a new life to her children. Nevertheless, life on the Skyluck was pure and simple, undisguised and worry-free, unified and closed for most families. Promises made to the future could never be replaced with the happy and worry-free life of this gigantic Skyluck family. It was the unforgettable journey for most Skyluckers. It was a fascinating trip. It peeled human to the basic layer to review each person basic instinct during the hardship, and it strengthened bonds among families and friends after the "test of life."

At last, the Skyluckers all come out on top. Perspective towards life, more or less, is much different than the other who never has the chance to experience the life as the Skylucker. Skyluckers are distributed all over the world, and each individual has his or her own story to say and tell about his or her life then and now. So gather your thought and let's keep the memory of the SKYLUCK alive…


SKYLUCK - Chronology


January 15th  Monday

Left home for Bến Tre.

January 17th Wednesday

KYLU (SKYLUCK disguised under the name "KYLU" see "The Story of KYLU") docked outside Vietnam open sea to wait for her special "cargo."

January 19th Friday

Passengers were transported up to the vessel via cargo net with wooden platform. KYLU began her journey.

January 20th  Saturday

Many more small boats arrived.

January 24th Wednesday

KYLU left Vietnam to begin her human cargo journey.

January 25th Thursday

Protested about not knowing where KYLU was heading.

January 26th  Friday

The captain promised that it would reach destination in 4 days.

January 28th Sunday

Chinese New Year – The Year of The Goat. Bonus food for the occasion from the captain. However, while distributing rice soup, people looted them all.

January 29th Monday

Saw Philippines Islands, waiting for small boat to take us in.

January 30th  Tuesday

Skyluck circled around islands. One baby died. Associated family performed sea burial by putting the body in a box and let out to sea.

January 31st Wednesday

Around midnight, KYLU arrived Philippines; about 600 passengers have been dropped to the Palawan island.

February 1st Thursday

Around 6 am, Philippines fishermen alerted the coast guard. KYLU left Philippines in a rush to escape the Philippines coast guard's chase. Watch the Philippines' pirate ships encircled the Skyluck throughout the day, reload food and water supplies from another vessel, it had been speculated that the gold payment from the passengers were transferred to the reloading vessel during the reloading.

February 2nd Friday

KYLU's captain and co-captain were tied up by the KYLUers' leaders and forced to change destination to Hong Kong. KYLU changed back to SKYLUCK by adding S, C, and K to her name.

February 6th Tuesday

SKYLUCK ignored signals from Waglan Island and continued on her track to the desired destination.

February 7th Wednesday

2 am - reached Hong Kong. Skyluck anchored at Western Anchorage near Ocean Terminal between Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Hong Kong Marine police boarded Skyluck. Representatives of KYLUers were selected to meet with Hong Kong Police to discuss the Skyluck issues. Later in the day, Skyluck was guided by the Honk Kong Marine police to Lamma Island and anchored a distant from Lamma Island.

2:30pm - food and medical services delivered. Hong Kong police pulled ship out to near Lamma Island.

February 19th Monday

Because of Skylucker's demand, cooked rice was provided instead of crackers. First time to have rice for dinner since the fleeing.

Sometime early March

Skyluckers being impatient and demanded to land and started fasting.

March 11th Sunday

Fasting and swimming to shore - unfortunately, one of the refugees - Tang On - was drowned during the action swimming ashore; About 100 swum some using the supplied big empty cracker tin can as the floating assisted device - and only 50 reached ashore Yung Shue Wan successfully but was captured and sent back to Skyluck shortly. One escaped the round-up and was able to talk to the press. Skyluck was towed farther from the shore.

March 12th Monday

Hong Kong police found Tang On's body.

March 29th Thursday

International Red Cross provided parcel supplies for postal service - one pre-paid envelope per household.

April 2nd Monday

Stormed, Skyluck was blown near the Lamma Island shore. Later was pulled farther away from shore for Skyluck safety.

April 4th Wednesday

First postal service began.

April 15th Sunday

A 30 meters long ship called "Ha Long" arrived Hong Kong; passed by and waved to Skyluck. Ha Long carried approximately 570 passengers.

April 20th Friday

Ha Long was permitted to land; Skyluck was towed farther out from the shore.

April 24th Tuesday

Due to Skylucker's demand, Hong Kong government agreed to provide two hot meals with rice daily.

May 13th Sunday

Heavy rainy day.

May 15th Tuesday

Heavy rain. Some passengers got food poisoning; they were transported to hospital in Hong Kong via coast patrol boat.

May 22nd Tuesday

Skyluck representatives announced to passengers that Skyluck will be permitted to land on 05/24/79.

May 26th Saturday

Other Panama ship sunk itself and landed.

June 8th Friday

One small refugee boat (name unknown) reached Hong Kong, being towed and anchored not too far from Skyluck.

June 13th Wednesday

Protest banners and cardboard signs were raised up high. Skylucker refused to accept food and parcel supplies and began the hunger strike. Protest signs were painted in English and displayed on the side of the ship.

June 14th Thursday

An emergency shelter was built for faint fasting Skyluckers.

June 16th Saturday

Some Skyluckers walked down from the vessel to sat or lay down at the floating dock anchoring next to Skyluck to continue their hunger strike in protesting the Hong Kong authorities' actions or inactions towards Skyluck.

June 17th Sunday

"SOS" flag and signs were hung. "SOS" signal were sent out by horning. Tires were burn inside the crude oil container to alert the authority and passing-by boats.

June 18th Monday

Agreement was finally reached between Hong Kong authorities and Skyluck representatives during the afternoon hours. The hunger strike had ended after 114 hours. Skyluck accepted food and parcels once again.

June 27th Wednesday

Protest campaign gathering started at night with music (there was one guitar on board), singings, and speeches from Skyluck leaders. Someone planned to cut the anchor chain and let Skyluck floated into the shore of Lamma Island.

June 28th Thursday

10 am, raining, Skyluckers cut the anchor chain and temporary fasten it back with rope.

June 29th Friday

Storm. The direction of the water current was carefully calculated. The anchor were released, Skyluck drifted into the rocks at Lamma Island and began to sink. Some cabins were broken; water leaked into Skyluck and the vessel tilted on Lamma Island. Skyluckers jumped into the water or climbed down the side of the vessel on rope ladders, then scrambled up the rocky shores of the island but were quickly rounded up by the Hong Kong police. Skyluckers were then guided by the Hong Kong polices to walk across to the other side of the island and got transport to Chi Ma Wan Prison Camp on Lantau Island. Some Skyluckers who didn't left the ship were later transported by boat directly to the camp.

July 1st Sunday

Began Chi Ma Wan living. Registered for meal ticket and applied for temporary ID card.

Beginning in July

Allowed to meet with relatives and friends in Hong Kong. Roll call at 7 am before letting out from secured room for daily activities. Second roll call at 6 pm before went back to the secured room, about 250 people per room.

July 30th Monday

Heavy rainy day for next two days.

August 1st Wednesday

Some free for leaving Chi Ma Wan camp for a one day trip in Hong Kong.

August 2nd  Thursday

Storm, category 10, Chi Ma Wan scenery damaged during the storm.

August 3rd Friday

Clear day.

September 7th Friday

Signed plane ticket - believe to be the 1st group.

September 11th Tuesday

First group of Skyluckers departed Hong Kong and began new life in U.S.

Wednesday, May 14th, 1980 @ 3:00 pm PST

Skyluck was pulled from Lamma Island to a vessel wrecking company at Tseung Kwan O to start her 3-month long dismemberment. The Skyluck remaining was purchased by the wrecking company for about 500 thousand HK dollars



The Story of KYLU

To escape the coast guard attention, the Skyluck arrived Vietnam open sea under a disguised name "KYLU." The name was created with the elimination of letter "S", "C" and "K" in her given name "SKYLUCK." This has created some confusion among the international coast guards for tracking down the purpose of the vessel - where it head to, who it belongs to, and what is her status. "KYLU" was not transformed back to "SKYLUCK" until it had anchored near Philippines to let go about 500 passengers and changed course towards Hong Kong. SKYLUCK had reached Hong Kong water and anchored between Kowloon and Hong Kong water without trigger any alarm to the Hong Kong coast guard patrols.



1 tael of 24K gold = $350 US dollars (prices of 1979)

1 tael of gold = 1.21 troy ounces = 37.5 grams (in Vietnam)

Price to aboard the SKYLUCK:

Adult: 12 taels of 24K Gold leaves

Young between 5 and 15: 1.5 taels of 24K gold leaves

Children under 5: 1 tael of 24K gold leaf

Tael is the unit using in Asia, especially in China, to measure gold. The unit is greater than the English ounce.


External links: (from Wikipedia, SKYLUCK article)