On board ship every crew member has a task or job to complete in an emergency, mine was to tie the painter (rope) from the lifeboat to a bollard on the main fore deck, this was to stop the lifeboat from drifting away when it was lowered into the water by the other crew members. I have often heard the expression of a person’s knees knocking together; I was now experiencing it at first hand as I made my way along the deck after securing the painter.
I made my way back up to the boat deck where the lifeboat had now been swung out over the ships side ready for lowering, when in the distance the lights of other vessels appeared, the marines were coming to our rescue. Immediately after the explosion our radio officer had sent out a distress message on the instructions of the captain, small patrol boats and amphicars (amphibious cars) were now on their way to help out. By now we see and feel the ship sinking, word has come down from the bridge we are not to lower our own boats any further instead we are told to try and salvage whatever we can from our cabins and then get on board the rescue boats. Once again I must make my way down the cat walk over the oil tanks to reach my cabin.
John Young is at the top of the stairwell and we both go down to our cabins which are alongside each other. We have only one torch between us, I go into my cabin, remove the pillow case from the pillow and stuff some clothes into it, we go into Johns cabin and he does the same, by now the water is in the alleyway, dirty slimy greasy water up to our ankles, we can feel the movement of the ship as she sinks towards the bottom. We had all we could collect, time was running out, and we ran back up the stairwell to the deck. By now the rescue boats were along side, the marines on board were shouting” get off quick there might be more mines attached to the ship, and if they’re closer to the cargo tanks we are all dead men”. The rescuing marines had launched flares into the night sky and they cast an eerie yellow light over the whole area.
We all watch as one flare drifts down slowly towards the main deck of the ship, the tank lids are open, we all hold our breath as the flare drifts on and past the side of the ship. If it had gone down into the tanks, the American rescuers would really have completed the sinking of the Amastra and all its crew. Another lucky escape for all on board. The closest rescue boat to me is an amphicar; I quickly climb over the ships rail and clamber aboard. As we are making our escape from the stricken ship the American marines have divers preparing to go down and look for other limpet mines. It would appear the Vietcong had sent out an underwater swimmer during the evening and he had planted a limpet mine. It seems the intelligence officers of the Vietcong were very good at their job, for we had only received new orders to sail the next morning for Da Nang, as the air force there was screaming out for more fuel oil supplies. The Amastra would be going nowhere now, at least for a while.
The amphicars brought us to a beach, these rescue craft could just drive out of the water straight up onto dry land, with their huge rubber wheels. It was the start of a new day for our ship wrecked crew now ashore on a beach in war torn Vietnam. My mind drifted back to the Indian Sikh in Singapore who told me I would be going home soon, it looked like he got it right, for I would now definitely be going home sooner than I had expected. It is a dark and humid night as we sit on the beach at Nha Trang and await our transport to some unknown destination, everyone speaks in a hushed tone as the realisation of what has just happened sinks in.
The good captain of our ship as always thinking of his crew has emptied his drinks cabinet and the contents have come ashore with us, bottles of Cherry Brandy and Whiskey and Rum are passed around as we try to come to terms with our lucky escape. We look out into the bay and see our ship with the lights of rescue boats around her, by now she is well down by the stern with the bow pointing skyward, she has not sunk completely as the water is too shallow, her stern is now on the bottom and the after accommodation flooded. We all say and hope the ship is finished, although we have lost all our belongings no one has been hurt and at least we will now be sent home. I am standing in a pair of shoes, trousers, tee shirt, and lifejacket; all my possessions are now under water, along with souvenirs I had picked up over the months. I know my family would prefer me to come home in one piece than with all the souvenirs in the world.