Vietnamese boat refugee named after Danish-flagged ship and crew who rescued her 

Simba Hansen on the left and her brother Tuan Pham on the right with their mother Xuan Nguyen, who was pregnant with Simba when the family fled and was rescued by the EAC ship, after which Simba is named. Photo: Leif Baun

Simba Hansen is not a typical Vietnamese name and the story behind the name is even more unusual. She was named after the Danish-flagged ETA (Det Østasiatiske Kompagni or ØK) ship Simba and a crew member onboard named Hansen who rescued her family and about 120 other Vietnamese boat refugees over 40 years ago. 

Simba Hansen herself does not remember the dramatic event. She was still in her mother’s womb. But it’s a story that has become a large part of her identity and something she carries with her through life in Denmark.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the losing South Vietnamese stood as traitors after the great power conflict, which was also a civil war. Simba’s father had been to prison twice and this was his third attempt to escape from Vietnam.

He was a fisherman, and in agreement with his captain, they sailed out to sea in his fishing boat. The captain himself was among the fugitives. The goal was to meet a large ship that would pick them up. They were hoping to get to a big country like the United States, Germany, or Canada. But they feared ending up amongst Thai pirates, who were also sailing the sea. 

On 16 December 1979 after three nights and two days at sea, a Greek ship spotted the fishing boat. The Greek ship was however already full of other Vietnamese refugees and instead alerted the ETV Simba. When Simba’s family and the other boat refugees got onboard Simba, the small fishing boat that had been carrying them, sank. 

The story is a part of Simba’s family history and an important chapter she would like to know more about. She has tried to find more information about the crew member Hansen who is the reason for her surname but it’s been difficult to find anything. The captain of Simba died 20 years ago and a part of the crew onboard Simba at the time was from the Philippines.

During an event at Tirsbæk Castle in Denmark last week however she got the chance to meet other ETA crew. The event was hosted by the landowner couple Hans Henrik Algreen-Ussing and Marianne Kirkegaard who had invited former ECA sailors and crew members because the company is part of their legacy.

To JydskeVestkysten, Simba Hansen says, I have often thought about what would have happened if we had not left Vietnam at that time. Then I might have lived in happy ignorance of the world and its possibilities.”

Simba’s two years older brother, Tuan Pham, does not remember the actual trip on the boat back in 1979. The first thing he remembers from that time is the snow in Denmark.

“Based on what my father says, it was never intended that the fishing boat should carry so many people. But people heard that something was going on and just showed up at the dock. It must be a bit like what we saw from the airport in Afghanistan,” says Tuam Pham.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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