Owner of Weston Asian restaurant celebrates 40 years since miraculous boat rescue
PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 June 2019
A Weston restaurateur who fled Cambodia and Vietnam in search of freedom and was saved from a sinking boat has celebrated 40 years in the UK.
Minh Xanh, owner of eatery Zen in the Boulevard, was one of 1,000 people rescued by the SS Sibonga when two fishing boats got lost in the South China Sea, looking for a new home in May 1979.
Disaster awaited the refugees, who hoped to flee Asia after China's invasion of Vietnam and were stranded on the flimsy boats without food or water, but the British cargo vessel - captained by Northern Irishman Healey Martin - was in the right place at the right time and they were brought on board and taken to safety.
The 'boat people' - as they were nicknamed - arrived on British shores the following month, and the majority have forged lives around Britain since.
Mr Xanh, aged 55, was just 15 when he was rescued - having fled Cambodia four years earlier - and has spent the past two decades in Weston.
He told the Mercury: "We were very lucky the Sibonga ship saved us. There were two fishing boats which went out looking for freedom.
"They were floating around the South China Sea when one started to sink.
"We stayed in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks and then we arrived in the UK.
"We arrived in Canterbury and stayed at a refugee camp. We ended up in Torquay and I moved to Weston in 1999 and opened the restaurant.
"There are a couple of other Sibonga families which have lived in Weston for 40 years."
The restaurateur visited Captain Martin, now in his 80s, on May 21 to thank him for his life-saving heroics.
Mr Xanh then celebrated the anniversary at his restaurant, which was formerly known as Saigon and rebranded in December, with a party on Friday - with Weston mayor Mark Canniford in attendance.
Mr Xanh said: "I held a little do at the restaurant to welcome the mayor and celebrate my 40th year in the UK.
"There were around 35 people there. It was loyal customers supporting the event, which was very good of them.
"It was an amazing evening. I would like to say thank you to the mayor and mayoress, and to the loyal customers who were involved."