Thirty-four survivors from an original boatload of 120 Vietnamese refugees were rescued from an island by a Taiwanese fishing boat and brought to Taipei on Monday.
They had spent 54 days on the islet in the Spratlys where 56 companions died for lack of food or water. Another 30 died enroute to Taiwan. The survivors, mostly of Chinese descent, said British and Japanese freighters had passed them by on Oct. 3 although they came within 200 feet of the shouting refugees.
Crew members shrugged them off, said the survivors, who added that their original destination was Malaysia -- the goal of thousands fleeing Vietnam in small boats.
The craft changed course for the Philippines because of currents but the engine failed five days out of Saigon and the refugees drifted to the coral islet between the Philippines and Vietnam.
They ran out of food and water in another five days and deaths began from malnutrition, dehydration or disease. The 34 who lived were given emergency treatment Monday and sent to Taiwan's Pescadores Islands for temporary settlement, a Taipei port official said.
Taiwan seldom has accepted refugees from Indochina, saying it is already overpopulated.
In another refugee disaster, Thai authorities said yesterday that a boat capsized off Thailand Sunday, killing 48. The 278 survivors were taken to a refugee camp near the Malaysian-Thai border that already houses almost 2,000 "boat people."
The survivors said the vessel overturned and sank while four refugees swam ashore to obtain food and water. It was at least the sixth sinking in two weeks in the same general area off the Thai and Malaysian coasts. Some 400 lives have been lost.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Oakley is due in Kuala Lumpur today to discuss the refugee crisis in Malaysia, which is unwilling host to about 46,000 Vietnamese.