Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Pirates of Taiwan, Prisoners of Yangmingshan

Monday I whizzed down to Tainan to meet longtime activist and scholar Richard Kagan, one of the most inspiring and interesting people I have ever met (his book Taiwan's Statesman: Lee Teng-hui and Democracy in Asia. We spent the day running around Tainan, and wound up heading out to the mangrove canal at the Taijiang Scenic Area just outside Anping.

Kagan is full of fascinating stories, but one of the oddest is his tale of the Soviet tanker Tuapse. In 1954 the ROC navy seized a Soviet tanker on its way to China (1954 news report from US, 1958 report from Russia on return of some sailors) in waters south of Taiwan and took it back to Kaohsiung. The incident caused a serious problem in US-Soviet relations, as the Russians blamed the US Navy for the seizure -- which may well have been involved, since the ability of ROC forces to locate ships at sea was then poor --  and claimed that its crewman were tortured and held in hellish conditions in Taiwan. Some of the crew members escaped and others were eventually repatriated. The imagine of Taiwan as a "pirate island" remained in Soviet propaganda and even made its way into children's literature in the USSR, according to this book. The tale would also become a hit film in Russia. As a result of the seizure, Russian and other East European satellite shipping even withdrew from South China waters for a time, as a couple of other ships were seized. Recall that there was fighting between CCP and KMT forces around that time.

However, a contingent of Polish crewmen refused to go home, fearing arrest. According to Kagan, these crewmen were given a house to live in on Yangmingshan and were placed there under house arrest. They were fed, given women, and once a month, they were put on a bus and allowed to go out to watch a movie. Chafing under this regime, they commandeered the bus one evening in 1965 and drove it to the US embassy. Unfortunately nobody there spoke Russian. Someone called Kagan, who could speak it, and he was brought in to translate.

The hapless crewmen were eventually returned to house arrest. Sadly, finally after the fall of the Berlin Wall more than 30 years later, the last crewmembers of the Tuapse went home from Taiwan. One remained behind in Taiwan to teach Russian, according to this old AP report...
A Soviet sailor captured 34 years ago by Taiwan said Wednesday he enjoys living here and denied he had been tortured.

"I have made many friends. Taiwan is prosperous and people here are rich. I like this place." Vsevolod Vladihirovich Lopatyuk said on an evening television show, speaking in Chinese and Russian.

In an interview with the military-run China Television System, he said the Taiwanese government had granted him and three colleagues asylum and provided them with money, housing and entertainment.

Lopatyuk said President Lee Teng-hui had approved his request to become a Taiwan resident, and he soon will start teaching Russian at a language center.

Lopatyuk, 60, lives in a secluded compound protected by guards in Ilan, a fishing village about 18 miles southwest of Taipei.

He said he missed his parents and that although they are in the Soviet Union, "they live in my heart forever."

Lopatyuk denied charges by the other sailors that they had been captured and tortured in prison.

When the other sailors _ Vladimir Sablin, Boris Pianov, and Vladimir Kniga _returned to Moscow in August, they told reporters they had lived in horror during their long stay in Taiwan.

"They were made to look for days at hot white electric bulbs, wild dances of the prison guards on prostrate bodies of the prisoners whose feet and arms joints were squeezed tight," the offical Soviet news agency Tass reported.

Lopatyuk denied the Tass report and said the four stayed in the compound together and were treated nicely.
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