MACVA Tribute To 803279 Leading Rate Clearance Diver Muhammad Charles Mok RMN (Rtd)
803279 Leading Rate Clearance Diver (LRCD) Muhammad Charles Mok (Charles), who hailed from the coastal town of Port Dickson was born on 17 December 1950, had enlisted in the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) on the 21st April 1970. On his successful selection, he was immediately streamlined into the Mechanical Executive Branch (commonly called ME or Stokers) in the RMN. As per the Navy’s training necessities, he had first to undergo the compulsory basic recruit and seamanship training in KD MALAYA Woodlands, Singapore before he could undergo his skill set training as ME.
On his graduation as a Stoker, Charles was sent for sea training and practical experience onboard KD BADEK, a Patrol Craft (PC). During his stint onboard KD BADEK for a period of 6 months; Charles had the opportunity to visit a number of neighbouring countries during the PC’s port of calls - to see the world part of the naval excitement for him. KD BADEK was also very heavily involved with and had conducted regular anti-piracy patrols, surrounding Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak in that same period. Charles successfully completed his practical and sea training, but had learnt quickly that he was easily bored cooped up watch-keeping in the PC engine room. He realised, quite immediately, that this ME job does not suit him personally, so he immediately contemplated a change in his trade from ME to something that was more adventurous and outgoing in the RMN.
He had always longed to be a Navy Diver, so he put in an official request and appealed through his Commanding Officer for a change in his trade. His request was granted, so Charles joined and took up the diver’s pre-requisite 1st Ship’s Divers Course (SD) conducted by the RMN in Woodlands Base, in February 1971. On the completion of his SD training, he was attached to the RMN Clearance Diving Team (CD Team). The CD Team conducted ship’s underwater repairs, underwater maintenances and clearances and provided assistances to Government Agencies for all underwater search and rescue operations whenever called upon.
Called upon Charles and the team were, for in 1972 the RMN received a request for assistance from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Fishermen in Tumpat, Kelantan complained that there was a ship wreck located at the mouth of Tumpat River. This wreck had progressively and dangerously shifted downstream in the monsoons, and had somehow blocked the river mouth, the exit and entrance passage to and from their livelihoods. Fishing boats and propellers were continuously damaged when they had no choice but to pass the wreck. The RMN in response to the PMO request had mobilized their CD Team under the command of Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Lam Ah Lek RMN. They had set up their base camp at the beachfront in Tumpat. Charles and the team were tasked to conduct a number of reconnaissance dives into the wreck to assess.
The wreck turned out to be a Japanese ship wreck from WWII. The Awazisan Maru was a 9,794 gross ton freighter that was built by Tama Shipbuilding Co., Tamano for Mitsui & Co. Ltd., launched in 1939 and was notable for being the most advanced freighter of its time. It was commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy to transport troops in World War II and was part of the Japanese Invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941.
Lt Cdr Lam instructed the team to rig several boxes of plastic explosives and a 500lb Aircraft Bomb, which they had picked up at RMAF Base in Kuantan, Pahang to precede the demolishment exercise. The task was basically an underwater Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) execution, which required a specifically trained skill set personnel to carry out. EOD Technicians are specially trained to deal with the construction, deployment, disarmament, and disposal of high explosive munitions and so on. After the rigging of the explosives and the nearby area cleared of spectators, the team successfully detonated and blew up the wreck. The demolishment had cleared the passage for fishing boats to enter and exit without any further restrictions. For the job well done, Charles was awarded the Kepujian Perutusan Keberanian (KPK) on 7th June 1973.
After having proven himself capable, Charles was shortlisted to attend the Clearance Diver 3 Course (CD) on 15th August 1972, in HMAS PENGUIN Sydney, Australia. On his return, he was again attached to the RMN CD Team 1 based in Woodlands, Singapore. Charles, while attached to the RMN CD Team, was made an alternative instructor for SD Courses conducted in the Woodlands Navy Base diving school.
During the above stint, Charles was once tasked to recover small calibre fire arms (accidentally) dropped by local military personnel during their patrols in the east coast. Charles did not only successfully recover those small arms; he had also stumbled on to and helped recover a small cache of firearms deliberately thrown into the sea by South Vietnamese Refugees boat people. These weapons were offloaded into the waters when their boat arrived at the Malaysian shoreline, for obvious reasons.
His next posting in 1973 was to the RMN CD Team in Markas Wilayah Laut Dua (MWL 2) in Labuan. On 27th December 1973, the RMN CD Team was called upon to conduct a Search and Rescue Mission. It was reported that in Pulau Kidjang on 26 December 1973, a passenger ferry sank in the Rejang River near Tanjung Jerijeh, Sarawak, (6.5 km) west of Sarikei during the monsoon season. Of the 159 people that were aboard, 38 were saved including 18 sailors. 41 bodies were found. Amongst those victims were school children who had just returned from a Scout Jamboree held in Kuching. Charles was awarded Bentara Bintang Sarawak (BBS) in 1975 for the assistance in locating and recovery of the victims.
On 4th March 1975 it was again reported that Mv Nunukan Express No 1, one of the many ferries that plied between Tawau and the Indonesian Nunukan Regency, Kalimantan, had shortly after departing the Tawau Ferry Terminal, capsized and sank. There were loss of lives amongst the crew and passengers. The Sabah Minister of Religious Affairs, Datuk Abu Bakar Tittigan, met the RMN CD Team in the Search and Rescue operations. It was explained that the ferry was overloaded; in fact a number of passengers were dangerously standing at the upper deck at both starboard and port sides of the ferry. One of the passengers had fallen overboard; the Master of the ferry had stopped the boat abruptly. At such high-speeds and with such knee jerk reactions, the boat created huge swells behind the ferry, which had then quickly overtaken the vessel to submerge the entire ferry aft. The vessel sank almost immediately and the victims had no chance to react or save themselves.
The Minister had briefed that the area of search, where the vessel was suspected to have sunk was large. It would surely take the RMN CD Team quite some time to locate the actual route or the sunken wreck itself. Charles had suggested to the Minister to use trawlers and nets to sweep the seabed, while the CD team would follow closely behind with their dive boat to check on the debris swept into the net. It did not take long, one of the 3 fishing trawlers net had snagged on some unknown underwater structure. Charles dived down to investigate; he confirmed that the net was caught onto the missing ferry. Charles had cut the trawler net free, and in place floated a marker buoy to identify the location of the wreck.
The Minister had made some arrangements for a timber barge to assist in the salvage operations. Charles and his team then commenced their recovery operations. Charles, in his initial dive, first had to push back into the vessel all the bodies that were entangled and caught in the ferry windows in their failed escape. Charles had channelled two long lifting slings under the hull of the sunken ferry; the two slings were then raised to the surface to be hooked up to the davit of the timber barge. The davit then slowly picked up the slack in the slings, lifting the ferry slowly upwards towards subsurface. On breaking the waterline and being slightly buoyant, Charles used a fire axe to cut a hole through the canopy of the ferry, where the team then quickly inserted the hose from the water pump. The pump evacuated water off the ferry, up righting the sunken ferry progressively. Once the ferry was floating on its own (the crane still holding on to the slings), the rescue team entered the ferry to recover all the victims. He was awarded the Bintang Kinabalu (BK) on 2nd October 1975 for his services to the state.
On the 25th November 1975 Charles enrolled and attended the Airborne Course together with the Special Forces Training Centre at Sungai Udang Camp, Malacca.
Charles had excelled in sports during his service with the RMN. Amongst his notable contributions in representative sports were the following:
> 1970 – RMN Shooting Champion – SLR
> 1970 – 82 - RMN Swimming, Water Polo, Basket Ball & Volley Ball
> 1970 – 82 - Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) in Swimming and Water Polo
> 1973 – 76 - Malaysian Water Polo National Team
> 1974 – 82 - MAF/RMN Coach/Player Swimming and Water Polo
> 1970 – 78 - Cross Straights (Johor-Singapore) Swimming Champion
Charles completed his military services on 20th April 1983 after serving a total of 13 years.
Charles, after his services in the RMN, had worked with local and multi-national companies to continue using his diving skills and knowledge. His expertise, apart from construction and salvage works as Navy Clearance Diver, also include underwater construction, underwater inspection, repairs and maintenance services in the oil and gas industry are well sought after expertise skills in the Oil & Gas Sector, worldwide.
Recorded for MACVA Archives
Lt Soon Tet Leong RMN (Rtd)
5 Sep 18