Claiming they had run out of food, water and hope, desperate Vietnamese refugees on a freighter anchored off Hong Kong began jumping overboard yesterday. Patrol boats plucked them from the sea and put them back.
Another shipload of 2,400 "boat people" anchored off the Philippines received their first nourishing meal in weeks but also were told to go away.
In Hong Kong, officials continued to insist that the 2,700 refugees crammed aboard the 2,794-ton freighter Huey Fong anchored off the colony since Saturday were "not our responsibility."
They again ordered the freighter to proceed to its next port of call -- Taiwan.
The refugees, however, who were reportedly holding the captaiin of the freighter prisoner, refused to leave when informed that the Taipei government had declared it could not accept them either.
Meanwhile, the Philippine government appealed urgently to 19 Western countries to take the refugees aboard the Hong Kong-owned freighter Tung An, anchored in Manila Bay.
The refugees are almost fanatically persistent Some aboard the Huey Fong have threatened mass suicide if their ship sailed off, while refugees were so determined to get on the Tung An in Vietnam that 200 are reported to have drowned in a mad scramble for safety on the South China Sea.
One of the women refugees who arrived on the Tung An said at least 20 children had died and were buried at sea before the freighter reached Manila. The woman was one of five people allowed to leave the ship for medical treatment.
The woman said many of the refugees were ethnic Chinese whose properties had been confiscated. They were forced to work for small wages on farms or factories, she added.
Associated Press photographer Andy Hernandez, who boarded the Tung An, said the freighter's hold was so crowded "it was impossible not to step on people."
Passengers ate a ration of rice-and-water gruel, Hernandez said, and "the only bedding in the hold was sacks of rotted cattle feed. It was the cargo the [Tung An] was carrying from Bangkok to Hong Kong" when the refugees boarded.
The Hong Kong refugees, in a radiotelephone interview, begged the authorities to let the young and old off the ship. They also urgently called for doctors after one old man suffered a heart attack.
"We have just a few hours of water left on board. Many people are sick, most of them children," said Nguyen Thua Hon.
"We have only biscuits to eat. We have no cooking facilities and the Hong Kong government says they have done all they could do for us.
"We clearly have no choice but to do exactly what we have said we would do: Jump into the water and swim to shore," Hon said.
Hong Kong has ferried 17,000 pounds of supplies to the Huey Fong, and yesterday returned to the ship two refugees earlier airlifted to a hospital but now declared fit.