Searching for a ship floating in an immense sea without any information is no different from looking for a needle in a haystack, but the Vietnamese marine police force could not stand still to wait.
The Vietnamese marine police force, officially named the Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG), faced a similar situation late last year.
They did not give up and achieved their target to rescue a ship in distress.
One day in October 2014, the VCG received a piece of news that the tanker Sunrise 689, which was carrying over 5,000 metric tons of oil on the way from Singapore to Vietnam, had gone missing.
The vessel, owned by Vietnam’s Hai Phong ship building company, had left Singapore on the evening of October 2 and vanished the following day.
The VCG was then informed of this mysterious disappearance.
The location of the Sunrise 689 was last tracked at 4:27 am on October 4, when it was just 120 nautical miles northeast of Singapore and 360 miles south of the Ca Mau cape of Vietnam, according to the International Maritime Center.
This was all the information about the ship in distress that the VCG had in hand.
Searching for it was clearly the task of the VCG, but taking action with that little information is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The VCG alerted the information sharing center of Vietnam to seek for relevant information from national police forces in the region.
No more information about the Sunrise 689 was heard for nearly a week.
Nguyen Quang Dam, commander of the VCG, recalled, “I received a phone call from Major General Thu [deputy commander of the VCG], who said that the captain of the Sunrise 689 had called to inform that the ship was hijacked.”
All crew members were locked inside a room onboard. Pirates had destroyed all the information and radar equipment of the vessel and steered it to an unknown location to unload 1,500 metric tons of oil onto another ship.
At 2:00 am on October 9, or six days after the ship was hijacked, the pirates left the vessel, unlocking the crew members and leaving it drifting at sea.
The captain, named Thang, said he hid his mobile phone and could only contact home at the moment, Commander Dam said.
After failing to get in touch with the captain several times, the commander instructed Vietnam’s military-run mobile operator Viettel to identify the location from which Thang had made the last call.
At the same time, Commander Dam sent an SMS message to Thang, saying he could call him whenever he was able to.
At 7:00 am on October 9, Viettel determined that the ship was nearly 30 nautical miles, or 54km, south of Ca Mau – the southern tip of mainland Vietnam.
Two VCG ships, CSB 2004 and CSB 2001, were immediately ordered to leave Phu Quoc Island for the location to search for the Sunrise 689.
The Sunrise 689 crew was trying to steer it toward Vietnam with the directional prediction of Captain Thang.
The two police ships were sailing at a speed of 24 miles an hour in high wave conditions.
Do Van Toan, captain of one of the police ships, recounted, “It was the most difficult mission I had ever taken part in.
“It was the first time we had searched for a ship without any information on its coordinates, moving direction and speed.”
The two VCG ships decided to separate and zigzag in an area of 30 nautical miles around the last coordinates identified by Viettel.
It was foggy and all the crew members of the police ships had to stand on the towers and the decks to observe the area with binoculars.
The Vietnamese marine policemen approached any ship with a similar appearance to the Sunrise 689, but none proved to be the missing vessel.
At 8:30 am on October 9, Captain Thang, of the ship in distress, called VCG Commander Dam, and the force identified the exact coordinates of the ship at 1:30 pm.
It was just 26 miles west-southwest of Hon Khoai Islet of Vietnam.
Within 20 minutes, the police ships found the Sunrise 689 and towed it toward Vung Tau – a beach city in southern Vietnam.