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The inspiring story of MV Nam Hoi and its crew during WWII in Igan

If you’ve never heard of Igan, it is a small district located near the Batang Igan river in the central region of Sarawak.

The population is mostly made up of Melanau people, who are famous for their umai, a kind of ceviche, and sago paste called linut.

It may be a small and unassuming town, but it is the centre of one inspiring piece of World War II (WWII) history.

The story of MV Nam Hoi and its volunteer crew

In December 1941, the Sarawak government chartered the M.V Nam Hoi to transport paddy and food rations from Sibu to Mukah.

Unfortunately, this was during the beginning of WWII. So when the vessel passed Igan, it happened during the Japanese bombing.

According to a story published on Jan 2, 1948 in The Sarawak Gazette, the crew decided to abandon ship and go ashore, refusing to continue with the voyage.

The story stated, “As the cargo was urgently needed in Mukah and it was dangerous for the vessel to remain at Igan which was on the daily route flown over by Japanese aircraft, the then District Officer, Mukah, telegraphed to the Resident asking for permission to take a volunteer crew head quarters to obtain possession of the vessel and complete the voyage.”

The resident agreed with the proposal but instructed the district officer to remain at his station.

So the district officer promptly put together a crew. They were Abang Mostapha (Captain), Haji Zahawi (First Mate), Tuto bin Tajudin (Second Mate), Albert Galli (Chief Engineer from Sarawak Electricity Supply Company), Taha bin Haji Mohamad (Second Engineer) and Jaya bin Haji Talip (Engineer).

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Meanwhile the rest of the crew were ex-constable Salleh bin Abang Kut, ex-constable Bujang, Salim bin Mohamad and Beki bin Haji Talip.

Heading to Igan from Mukah

Within half an hour after being summoned, the volunteer crew set out on bicycles from Mukah to Igan.

The report pointed out, “They travelled all night which was in itself a praiseworthy effort considering the age of some of the members.”

Here comes the frustrating part of the story; when they arrived at Igan, the original crew refused to board the vessel to show the volunteers how the engine worked, out of fear of the possibility of being targetted during the Japanese bombings.

So the volunteer crew took things into their own hands. There was no other way than pushing random buttons as long as the engine started and the vessel got moving.

“Not one of the volunteers had any experience of a marine diesel but by pulling and twisting every knob she was eventually started.

“The hook was pulled up, Captain Mostapha rang down slow ahead and the Nam Hoi went full astern. Chief Engineer Galli could not remember which knob he had twiddled to get the ship moving and for two long tanjungs (capes) the Nam Hoi careered astern with the skipper playing a fanfare on the telegraph,” the report stated.

In the middle of the journey, the vessel was stopped and the engineers stepped in to check on the engines.

The chief engineer reportedly had the help of a bottle of whiskey to refresh himself while doing his job.

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After awhile looking at how the ship was seemingly going in the right direction, the crew continued with their journey to Mukah.

Meanwhile, the first mate, Haji Zahawi who was also an imam, prayed loudly and unceasingly along the journey.

Chief Engineer Galli could not remember which knob he had twiddled to get the ship moving. Credits: Pixabay.
Nam Hoi arrives in Mukah

The vessel arrived and was anchored safely in Mukah in the evening on the same day they started their journey from Igan.

Its arrival was in the nick of time because this was just about the time the Japanese planes few over Mukah.

Whether it was the whiskey or the imam’s prayers, one thing is for sure: MV Nam Hoi’s journey from Igan to Mukah would not have been possible without the courage and the willingness of its volunteer crew to carry their jobs.

Even when the original crew refused to board the vessel again simply to show them how to run it, they refused to give up.

In 1948, the then governor His Excellency Charles Arden Clarke sent a letter to every member of the volunteer crew in 1948 to show his appreciation and to acknowledge their bravery.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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