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U.S. Navy To Court-Martial Captain In Cannibalism Case

December 9, 1988

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The U.S. Navy has ordered the former captain of the USS Dubuque court- martialed for allegedly failing to rescue Vietnamese refugees who claim they later resorted to cannibalism, a spokesman said today.

The spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Mukri, said no date had been set for the proceedings against Capt. Alexander G. Balian, 48, of Los Angeles but that they would probably be held at Subic Bay naval base, 50 miles west of Manila.

Balian was relieved of his duties in August after Vietnamese refugees claimed the Dubuque failed to render assistance when their boat crossed paths with the warship in the South China Sea on June 9.

United Nations officials said 52 of the refugees later reached the Philippines but 58 people died during the 37 day voyage. Survivors said two Vietnamese died of starvation but that three others were slain and eaten by fellow passengers.

Mukri said Rear Adm. Roger L. Rich, commander of U.S. naval forces in the Philippines, ordered the court-martial after reviewing findings of an investigation conducted at Subic and in the Persian Gulf, the Dubuque’s destination when it spotted the Vietnamese boat.

The investigation, which corresponds to a civilian grand jury probe, was completed Oct. 28 and forwarded to Rich on Nov. 7, Mukri said. It found that the Vietnamese vessel was out of food and water and with an inoperative engine and sails when it encountered the Dubuque.

Balian claimed that the boat was seaworthy and that the crew provided food, water and navigational directions.

Mukri said Balian faced seven charges, including failure to render assistance to a vessel in distress and failing to determine the condition of the vessel. Mukri said Balian, who is now in Sasabo, Japan, could be dismissed from the Navy and imprisoned for two years on each charge if convicted.

Mukri said the investigation determined that the Dubuque failed to provide food, water and clothing, even though some of the refugees were naked, dehydrated, and weakened from their ordeal at sea.

He said Balian was also charged with failing to rescue a Vietnamese refugee who jumped into the water and tried to swim to the port side of the Dubuque.

Mukri said another Vietnamese tried to climb a rope ladder on the side of the Dubuque, but the crew shook it and he fell back into the sea.

The Dubuque also did not report the location of the Vietnamese vessel by radio so that other ships in the area could render assistance, Mukri said.

Quoting the report, Mukri said the Vietnamese vessel left Vietnam on May 22. By the time it encountered the Dubuque on June 9, there were 83 men, women and children, including one infant, still alive, the report said.

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