LIVING HISTORY

No pushover

A hijacker on the third day telling the marine police what the Bukom Bombers wanted. The terrorists demanded food, water - and the local newspapers, each day.
A hijacker on the third day telling the marine police what the Bukom Bombers wanted. The terrorists demanded food, water - and the local newspapers, each day. ST PHOTO: MAK KIAN SENG

DANGEROUS TIMES: LAJU FERRY HIJACKING

THE YEAR 1974 was an eventful one.

The Watergate scandal brought down United States President Richard Nixon and an Opec (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) embargo quadrupled oil prices, tipping economies into recession. India detonated its first nuclear weapon, the Rubik's cube was invented and Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman to become the heavyweight champion of the world.

Singapore, not yet 10 years old, had its first brush with international terrorism.

In The Straits Times' blow-by-blow reporting of the Laju ferry hijacking, a taut nine-day battle of nerves, the newspaper brought home two fundamentals - that Singapore was vulnerable to other people's quarrels and that constant vigilance was the price of security.

Four terrorists armed with sub-machine guns and explosives landed on Pulau Bukom on Jan 31, 1974, intending to blow up the Shell oil refinery there. Two were Japanese from a communist militant group, the Japanese Red Army (Sekigun). Two were Arabs from the hardline Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.Singapore by then was already the world's third-largest oil-refining centre and the terrorists sought to disrupt the oil supplies.

In The Straits Times' blow-by-blow reporting of the Laju ferry hijacking, a taut nine-day battle of nerves, the newspaper brought home two fundamentals - that Singapore was vulnerable to other people's quarrels and that constant vigilance was the price of security.

When police gave chase, the terrorists hijacked the ferry Laju at the Bukom jetty.

Soon, it was surrounded by 15 marine police boats, Customs launches and three Singapore Maritime Command gunboats.

There it bobbed for the next nine days.

The Straits Times deployed more than a dozen reporters and photographers to cover the unprecedented event. Two of the five hostages managed to escape the first night and the paper published full accounts of their ordeal.

Officials wrangled with the terrorists night and day. They were offered safe passage out of Singapore because there had been no loss of life or serious damage. The "Bukom Bombers" demanded food, water - and the local newspapers each day.

As the crisis entered its seventh day, Japan agreed to lend an aircraft to fly the terrorists to Kuwait. In exchange, the terrorists agreed to disarm and released the hostages.

They left for Kuwait in the company of 13 Singaporean officials, led by the director of the Security and Intelligence Division at the Ministry of Defence, Mr SR Nathan, who later became the President of Singapore.

The Straits Times reported that the terrorists' farewell to the three hostages, whom they hugged and kissed, was "highly emotional". One of the hijackers even said he wanted to visit Singapore again, as a tourist. They apologised to the Singapore Government and to Singaporeans for the "many inconveniences" caused.

DANGEROUS TIMES: LAJU FERRY continued...


1982

S R NATHAN

The day before Mr Nathan ofcially takes up his post, Mr Lee tells him: “Nathan, I am giving you The Straits Times. It has 140 years of history. It’s like a bowl of china. You break it, I can piece it together, but it will never be the same. Try not to.”

Mr Nathan’s entry into The Straits Times is initially greeted with doubt and suspicion, but he focuses on his task of helping the editors to understand what the government is trying to do.

He avoids intervention in day-to-day affairs, but takes a special interest in international coverage and editorials as a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

1983

GREAT MARRIAGE DEBATE

The controversial Great Marriage Debate sparks off the most heated conversation in Singapore since the proposal to introduce income tax 40 years ago. The Prime Minister’s proposal to provide incentives for graduate women to have children in order to boost the quality of Singapore’s population draws largely hostile reactions from readers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'No pushover'. Print Edition | Subscribe