Marina apologises for attributing Dr M’s threat to shoot the Vietnamese boat people to Tun Ghazali

(FMT) – Marina Mahathir has apologised for an error in her recent column in The Sunday Star where she wrongly attributed a “shoot to kill” threat made regarding Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s to the then home minister Ghazali Shafie.

The “shoot to kill” threat was reported in the media to have been actually made by then deputy prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, her father.

READ MORE HERE: A Rusting Freighter Spurred World Attention to a Refugee Crisis

In her column dated Jan 30, she said, among other things: “I’ve been through embarrassing moments abroad when our politicians have said something stupid and then tried to cover it up. In the late 70s when we had many Vietnamese refugees landing on our shores, our then home minister announced that we would shoot any that washed up on our beaches.

“Predictably, outrage ensued around the world. He then gave the standard politician’s excuse, that he was misquoted, that he actually said he would ‘shoo’ them away. Did anyone believe it?”

The incident involved the Hai Hong, a Panamanian-registered freighter that was purchased for scrap and then turned into a refugee ship by its owners who charged the Vietnamese for passage. The vessel appeared off Port Kelang, Malaysia, on November 9, 1978.

In a Facebook post today, Marina thanked all those who had pointed out the “major factual mistake” in her column.

“It seems that I’m capable of making my own gaffes so I stand corrected and sincerely apologise.

“It was not meant to revise history, as some have alleged, it was wholly the weak memory of something that happened when I was barely out of my teens and still trying to make sense of the world.

“I unreservedly apologise to anyone I have hurt or offended by this mistake,” she said.

However, she did not name either Ghazali or Mahathir in her statement of apology.

According to a Washington Post article dated June 19, 1979, then prime minister Hussein Onn subsequently rushed to reassure then UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim in a letter that there was no such policy.

“I wish to state that our measures to prevent further inflow of the boat people do not include shooting them,” Hussein said.

The Washington Post report noted that Hussein’s statement contradicted Mahathir’s words, “who according to several news agencies, threatened that new refugees would be shot and that the estimated 75,000 in camps here would be put back to sea”.

He also was reported to have said that Malaysia was building a fleet of boats to facilitate the expulsion of the refugees.