Search the Register
Advanced Search

Tu Do

Vessel Number: HV000358
Date: 1977
Previous Owner: Tan Thanh Lu ,
Vessel Dimensions: 18.25 m x 4.5 m x 1.26 m, 23 tonnes (59.88 ft x 14.76 ft x 4.13 ft, 22.63 tons)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
TU DO is one of the many South Vietnamese fishing boats used by refugees fleeing Indochina in the mid 1970s. A number of craft voyaged as far as Australia. TU DO, the name meaning 'Freedom', was the means of escape for its passengers who were part of the exodus from South Vietnam after the fall of its capital, Saigon, to communist forces in 1975. Built by its owner and skipper, Tan Than Lu, as part of his escape plan, TU DO is typical of the type of craft used for the dangerous escape voyages and remains in largely original condition. It is one of just three refugee boats held in Australian museum collections, and the only one that is floating and operational. TU DO's story represents Australia's experience of the 1970s as the nation became involved in the global refugee story, one that continues to capture international attention.
DescriptionTan Thanh Lu was a 30-year-old businessman who meticulously planned his secret escape with 38 others. He had TU DO built specifically for the voyage but in order to remain inconspicuous it was built on the typical fishing boat lines of craft used at Phu Quoc Island off the southernmost part of Vietnam, It is 18.25 metres long and carvel planked in Shorea, a local hardwood similar to teak, over Heritiera frames, with trunnels (treenails) used as fastenings. TU DO was used for fishing for six months after its launch to further avoid suspicion and to help pay for crucial supplies which were hidden in his fellow voyagers' homes.

When he was ready to escape Vietnam Mr Lu staged an engine breakdown so that surveillance of TU DO would be relaxed. A more powerful replacement engine was installed by night and his group set off in the dark, pushing the boat across kilometres of tidal shallow water to maintain silence before starting the motor. Children had been given cough medicine to make them sleep. As they reached deeper water a head count revealed that one, Mr Lu's 6-year-old daughter Dzung, had been left sleeping on the shore. They returned to fetch her and the voyage began, on 16 August 1977. On board were Mr Lu's pregnant wife Tuyet, 27, infants Dao and Mo, relatives, friends and neighbours.

TU DO, with gold and cash hidden about the vessel, outpaced the notorious Gulf of Thailand pirates who preyed on boat people. Turned away from one port on the Malaysian coast, the group managed to land in Mersing where eight of the exhausted passengers disembarked as refugees. After a month, and unsuccessful approaches to US Embassy officials, Mr Lu bought more supplies with some of his gold and sailed for Australia with his remaining 30 people.

In Java they were re-supplied and encouraged to move on by Indonesian authorities. Off Flores they rescued another Vietnamese refugee boat which had run aground and towed it across the Timor Sea to make an Australian landfall near Darwin. TU DO's intrepid 6000 km voyage, guided by a map torn from a schoolbook and a compass, ended on 21 November 1977. The family was transferred to Waco Refugee Centre in Brisbane, where a son Quoc was born to Mr Lu and Tuyet. It was here that Mr Lu arranged to sell TU DO - and was charged import duty.

When acquired by the Australian National Maritime Museum in 1990, very little was known about TU DO's history. The boat's Vietnamese registration documents identified its home port and the name of the owner and his wife. Research into immigration records revealed sketchy details of the TU DO voyage but it wasn't until 1995, when a Museum curator finally tracked down the original owner in a NSW country town, that the full story unfolded. After revisiting his well-worn fishing boat at the Museum, and taking a trip on Sydney Harbour, Mr Lu said: 'Making the decision to escape is like going to war. You do it because you think it's necessary, but you never want to do it twice.'

The vessel has been extensively overhauled and deteriorating timber and planking replaced as required. The original engine a 3-cylinder Jinil diesel, original shaft, propeller and rudder have all been serviced and retained. In 2009 the vessel was on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum as one of the operational vessels maintained by Fleet section. The two other refugee vessels in Australian museum collections are HONG HAI, stored with the National Museum of Australia and not on display, and THINH YUONG, on display but out of the water, at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Vessel Details
Cabin or superstructure material and construction:timber planked
Current status:floating
Current status:on public display
Current status:operational
Deck layout:cabin
Deck layout:full decked
Deck material and construction:timber planked
Hull material and construction:carvelcarvel-planked
Hull material and construction:timber
Hull shape:displacement
Hull shape:monohull
Hull shape:overhanging stem
Hull shape:overhanging transom
Hull shape:round bottom
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:keel hung rudder
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:launch deadwood
Motor propulsion:diesel
Motor propulsion:inboard
Spar material:timber
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:wheel
ships:ship:Byzantine ships:ships:wheelhouse

Discuss this Object


Please log in to add a comment.