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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 3, 2002

Aloha, Hokget! Castaway dog has her day

• Video of Hokget's arrival in Honolulu

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hokget had a chance to say goodbye to one of her rescuers, tugboat crewmember Brian Murray, before she left for quarantine on Kaua'i with veterinarian Rebecca Rhoades, director of the Kauai Humane Society.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Two-year-old Hokget, aka Forgea — whose short life has become the stuff of which Lassie or Rin Tin Tin could only dream — arrived safely at Honolulu's Pier 24 yesterday to media fanfare normally reserved for rock stars or conquering generals.

But the super-pooch who survived for weeks on a derelict tanker adrift on the open sea — and made "Survivor" contestants look like pansies by comparison — proved she's no show dog.

Although media ambassadors from People magazine to network television were there to chronicle the first glimpse of Hokget, the dog refused to play to the cameras. There was no barking, sniffing, strutting or scratching.

Instead, the 30-pound white dog with a brown face and a sunburned nose merely yawned and panted while she was held tightly in the arms of veterinarian Rebecca Rhodes. Moments later, the dog was whisked away in a state van to have a comprehensive check-up before beginning a 120-day quarantine stint on Kaua'i.

"Her weight's pretty good, about 30 pounds," said Rhodes after giving Hokget a quick, on the scene examination. "Her heart sounds good, color is good, her hydration looks good. She's stable."

The moment marked the happy ending to a story that included the tragic death of one man, a daring rescue of 11 others and the unfolding saga of a dog stranded at sea that was followed by millions.

Rhodes said the crew of the tugboat, American Quest, which brought the dog and the tanker to Honolulu Harbor, had taken exceptional care of her. One of crew members, Pakalika Cunningham, 33, and Hokget formed a special bond.

"I'm on the night shift, so I'm all alone cooking," explained Cunningham, who grew up on the Big Island and has had many dogs.

"It was her first time out of the kennel. And I'm in the galley and she comes up to me and licks my leg."

Brian Murray, the tug's diving salvage supervisor, recalled capturing Hokget on April 26 while she was hiding in some tires piled inside the sweltering, 120-degree-plus front section of the burned out ghost tanker, Insiko 1907.

"We knew she was in there," said Murray, 37. "We were trying to make the dog feel more comfortable with our presence. But it was really hot. Eventually, we just had to get her out of there. I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. She was OK after that."

Capt. Gilbert Kanazawa, commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office, said the fate of the Insiko has not been determined. He said attempts are being made to have the vessel claimed by its Taiwanese owners.

The Coast Guard will inspect the vessel and begin the removal of its 60,000 gallons of fuel.

Kanazawa said a search for the dead crewman's remains will take place and, if found, they will be turned over to Honolulu medical examiner. Officials are still trying to determine the details of Gi Hui Nian's background.

Hokget will spend 120 days in quarantine on Kaua‘i. Then she will be cared for by Honolulu resident Michael Kuo, a friend of her master.
What happens to the remains will be up to the city medical examiner's office.

At this point, little is known about the dead crewman.

Honolulu resident Michael Kuo, long-time friend of Insiko Capt. Chin-po Chun, cheered "Hokget!" when he laid eyes on the dog. Kuo and his wife, Helen, will take care of the Hokget following the quarantine period. Kuo said Chun eventually wants to come to Hawai'i and retrieve the dog.

Kuo also cleared up some of the confusion surrounding the dog's name: Forgea, which is Mandarin, is similar in meaning to Hokget, which is Hokkien, the Chinese dialect that Chun speaks.

The Insiko drama began after an engine room fire on March 13 killed crewman Nian and knocked out all power and the vessel's communications capability.

The 256-foot Indonesian tanker drifted for 20 days with a crew of nine, the skipper, a badly burned chief engineer and one mixed-breed terrier.

On April 2 the Norwegian Star cruise ship made a late night rescue of all surviving crewmembers on board, but the dog was left behind, because, according to Kuo, Chun said he didn't feel it was his place to make demands on the cruise ship captain. The cruise captain later said he'd have saved the Insiko captain's dog if he had known.

Following a failed and much publicized $50,000 dog search initiated by the Hawaiian Humane Society on April 5, the tanker was presumed to have sunk and Forgea was given up for dead on April 7.

Hopes were rekindled on April 9 when an American fishing boat spotted the tanker on its radar screen approximately 400 miles southwest of O'ahu.

For three weeks the world followed the dog's now-you-see-her, now-you-don't ordeal, which went from hope to despair and back again.

Critics of the operation voiced astonishment that the total price tag for saving the dog could reach $185,000.

But animal lovers everywhere cheered the efforts of numerous vessels and aircraft, the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Marine tugboat company to rescue the tanker's final survivor, which by now rated her own reality TV show.

Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society, and Hokget’s new caregiver, Michael Kuo (holding the “aloha” rainbow sign), were among those eagerly awaiting the dog’s arrival. Every dog has its day, and yesterday it was Hokget’s as the media gathered to report on her arrival at Honolulu’s Pier 24.

The Coast Guard said the fate Insiko 1907, which was towed into Honolulu Harbor yesterday, has not been determined. The Coast Guard will inspect the vessel and begin removing its 60,000 gallons of fuel.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.