By Lawrence Carter-Long
Americans love melodrama, as media coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial,
Monica-gate and the Enron disaster illustrate, but throughout April
2002 an international soap opera of a different sort gained its fair
share of attention in newspapers and on airwaves around the world.
At first glance, the tale may seem familiar. The primary focal point
centered on the one who was left behind, while juicy subplots sailed
between a corpse, denials of responsibility and allegations of money
But this wasnt another political scandal, it wasnt even
a Lifetime movie of the week.
This was the tale of Hokget, a little dog who got lost at sea.
Hokgets saga began on March 13 when an engine-room fire aboard
the Indonesian tanker Insiko 1907 caused the death of one crew member
and wiped out the vessels power and communications. The wounded
tanker then began drifting with more than 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel
aboard. The Insikos Captain Chung Chin Po and nine crew members
drifted for 20 days before they were rescued by the crew of the Norwegian
Star cruise ship.
Normally, the rescue of the Captain and his crew would be the end of
the story. However, questions soon surfaced casting doubt upon the
efforts of the Norwegian Stars crew. Initial news reports charged
that Captain Po was told he could not bring the two year-old female
dog hed raised aboard the Insiko on the cruise ship when the troubled
tankers human survivors were rescued.
Their priority was to get the injured crew on the ship,
said Steve Hirano, of Pacific Management Consultants, which runs the
cruise line. There were rumors later of a dog, but by then the
ship was already on its way to Hawaii. Because of the weather and rough
seas at the time, they had to consider the safety of the crew and decided
not to go back.
Soon the Hawaiian Humane Society launched a massive effort to do what
the Norwegian Star either would or could not. Bolstered by $50,000
donations and support from the Humane Society of the U.S. they enlisted
the aid of American Marine Services, which sent out a rescue crew on
their own American Questa salvage tugboatalong with a Hawaiian
Humane Society investigator and a veterinary specialist, with five
members, dog food, medical supplies and a kennel for, no, not a three-hour
tour, but rather a five day mission to bring Hokget safely back to
Weve boarded burning ships and sinking ships and even sunk
some ships on purpose with explosives, Rusty Nall, vice president
of American Marine Services, commented at the time. The weather
looks good, so this should be no problem.
Despite having the perfect name for a nautical adventurer, Rustys
enthusiasm failed to get the job done. On April 7, after taking the
tugboat out several hundred nautical miles southwest of Hawaiis
Big Island and searching more than a thousand square miles of ocean,
the search team concluded the ill-fated Insiko, the deceased crew member
left on board and Hokget had sadly capsized, along with their hopes
As tension and attention grew, a tidal wave of publicity
flooded the media while pundits and reporters alike marveled at the
efforts to save Captain Pos canine companion and the cost of the
Jaymes Song of the Associated Press wrote, An almost comically
ineffectual effort to rescue a dog stranded on a tanker adrift in the
Pacific has people in Hawaii and beyond asking: What is a dogs
life really worth? The extraordinary operation to save two year-old
[Hokget] has cost $48,000 in private funds, and the Coast Guard is prepared
to spend government money on what has become one of the most expensive
A week following the end of the initial American Quest mission, a Japanese
fishing boat spotted the tanker, but the dogs condition remained
a mystery until a Coast Guard plane later saw the dog running back and
forth across the boats bridge.
Thats right, despite overwhelming odds, Hokget had survived.
Would-be rescuers eventually arrived at the boat and tried to feed Hokget,
who had lived on the tanker since she was eight weeks old, but the perplexed
pooch high-tailed it from rescuers and hid below deck. For two more
days fishermen tried to tempt the dog with peanut butter to no avail.
Fears persisted that the tanker would cause an environmental disaster
if it sank, but the U.S. Coast Guard could not get involved because
the boat was still drifting in waters outside U.S. jurisdiction.
Thankfully, the Insiko eventually drifted into U.S. territorial waters
and the Coast Guard opted to treat the 256-foot ship and its 60,000
gallons of diesel fuel and lubricating oil as a hazard to marine life,
thus giving Hokget another chance.
After initial disappointment, a Coast Guard plane spotted the Insiko.
It had been 18 days since her human companions were rescued on April
2 and, despite her aversion to peanut butter, Hokget was sure to be
one very hungry puppy.
The crew dropped all the food they had availablemostly pizza and
granola barsand six days later, rescuers climbed aboard the Insiko,
and, after 24 days stranded alone at sea, finally rescued Hokget, whose
name, by the way, means fortune and happiness in Taiwanese.
Pamela Burns of the Hawaiian Humane Society summed up her feelings about
the rescue by saying, On this day, the power of the compassion
in peoples hearts overcame the great ocean that kept Hokget lost
for so long.
Despite bad weather, bad luck and naysayers every step of the way, Hokgettrue
to her namehas found a new life and following a brief quarantine
period in Hawaii; will most likely remain with a friend of Captain Po.
The Captain, it seems, was exported back to Taiwan before the dog was
In the end, the melodrama of Hokget offers us more than the possibility
of seeing her on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (which is being planned).
The saga reminds us that while dogs are often called mans best
friend, humankind has seldom treated canine-kind with the same care
and respect they usually grant us. The friendships that matter most
are also the most reciprocaland for good reason.
For all the dogs who have selflessly rescued humans from burning buildings,
collapsed caves and theft by bullies and bugaboos, this time the two-leggeds
got one right. For all the dogs who remained steadfastly loyal long
after their human caregiver had passed away, you, too, are not forgotten.
To all the canines left alone in backyards and on the street, humankind
should bow our collective heads and beg forgiveness for our selfish
How much is a dogs life worth?
We might as well ask: What is friendship worth? What is the value of
compassion? The true answers to those questions have nothing to do with
moneyand never did.
Lawrence Carter-Long has over a decade of experience in
activism. A former poster child for cerebral palsy research
and the United Fund, Lawrence has made numerous media appearances in
support of animal rights, and is also an authority on disability issues
and communications techniques. He works for the Sacramento-based Animal
Protection Institute (www.api4animals.org).