First Vietnamese to win Exceptional Bravery at Sea award: ‘It is just humanity that motivates us’

First Vietnamese to win Exceptional Bravery at Sea award: ‘It is just humanity that motivates us’
Jiselle Lee
December 15, 2021
Tran Van Khoi is the first Vietnamese citizen to ever receive the Exceptional Bravery at Sea award. 
First awarded: The International Maritime Organization (IMO) gave its 2021 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea to Khoi because of his service as a member of Regional Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center No. 2 in central Da Nang City under the Vietnam Maritime Administration, according to VnExpress International.
  • Khoi, 41, has been on hundreds of rescue missions at sea over the last 15 years, but a particular three-day incident that happened last October resulted in his nomination.
  • A cargo vessel, Vietship 01, of a Hanoi-based logistics firm was swept away by typhoon Linfa’s wind gusts as it was docking at the Cua Viet Port in Quang Tri Province on Oct. 8, 2020.
  • The vessel sank in shallow waters, leaving 12 crew members trapped on the roof of the cabin. Several rescue units were deployed immediately, but they could not rescue the trapped members at the time because of severe weather conditions.
  • Early in the morning of Oct. 9, Khoi and his team were sent to the area where he saw two crew members being washed away by five-meter waves into the sea. He tied a rope to his body and swam through strong currents to rescue them both.
  • “They would be exhausted in trying the swim to the shore, I had to save them immediately,” he told VnExpress he thought at the time.
  • Over the course of the three days, from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11, many of the crew members fell into a panic and tried to save themselves by swimming to shore. Some local volunteers had also tried to rescue the remaining crew members but were unsuccessful and forced to join the people stranded on the cargo vessel.
  • In the meantime, Khoi had tried different methods of getting to the stranded individuals, including connecting the sunken ship to the shore using guns that shoot wires and steering a rib coach boat that nearly overturned.
  • Finally on Oct. 11, a military helicopter rescued the remaining six crew members stuck on the vessel.
  • Local people, photographers and the Regional Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center No. 2 took videos and photos of Khoi, which was eventually submitted to the IMO for a nomination.
  • Khoi said he was not the only one who risked his life those dangerous few days for the people stranded on the Vietship 01 vessel, acknowledging the courage of other rescuers and locals.
Humble hero: Khoi was originally supposed to receive the award in person in England, but the event was held virtually because of COVID-19 on Dec. 6. “I’m really proud,” he said the day of.
  • “I feel like it was just yesterday,” he said. “I don’t think of me as a hero. This is the job that I choose to do.”
  • Khoi said his wife was upset after he returned home from the mission, realizing that he could have left their three children fatherless.
  • “It is just humanity that motivates us,” he said.
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