Singapore

The magnificent 13 of the Laju hijack

After the passing of former president S R Nathan, there has been much talk about the 1974 Laju hijack and the bravery of the 13 men who traded places with the hostages. Who are these men?

In 2011, before he retired from the highest office, the late president S R Nathan hosted a small tea reception attended by seven of 12 Singaporean men.

It was a private function and some of the men were recognisable faces to Istana staff.

"It was our first and only reunion, and we recounted some of the things that happened in 1974. We were at ease with the results (of the crisis)," says Mr Tee Tua Ba, 74, the former commissioner of police.

Mr S. Rajagopal, 76, a retired counter terrorism officer with the Internal Security Department, was also there, as were several commando officers. He took pictures of the gathering.

He tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I met the President at an earlier event and told him we should have a gathering for the men.

"We had not seen each other as a group since."

That was the day 13 men traded places with hostages of the Laju ferry to guarantee safe passage out of Singapore for four hijackers.

The details were never shared publicly and none of the men believed in self-glorification.

As a result, for more than 30 years, few outside the group knew of the men's readiness to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Then before retiring, Mr Nathan revealed to The New Paper what took place on the Feb 8, 1974, Japan Airlines flight to Kuwait with the four Laju hijackers.

And he gave even more details in his book, An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency.

Among the 13 were commandos, including LTC (Retired) Clarence Tan Kim Peng, Singapore's first US-trained special forces soldier.

And ISD officers including director Yoong Siew Wah who, like the others, was ready to lay down his life.

INTERPRETERS

But there were also two non-security men who had acted as interpreters during the crisis.

One was a former official of the Syariah Court while the other had worked at the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

Both had died before the Istana reunion.

There has only been one publicly seen picture of the 13 men, taken at a press conference after the men had safely returned to Singapore on Feb 9.

They never again assembled as a group for more than 35 years.

- MELVIN SINGH and HARIZ BAHARUDIN

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