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It began on May 12 when the Mayaguez fell under attack by Khmer Rouge forces, while the ship was en route to Thailand. After transmitting several SOS and Mayday calls, the ship was commandeered by the Khmer Rouge and instructed to sail to Poulo Wai Island.
The distress calls were picked up by several people, including one who informed the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, who in turn relayed the information to the State Department and eventually to President Ford. After an attempt by Secretary of State Kissinger to persuade China to intercede failed, Ford and members of the National Security council opted for a military solution.
Mayaguez was carrying 107 containers of routine cargo, 77 containers of government and military cargo, and 90 empty containers, all insured for $5 million (equivalent to $24 million in 2019).:47 The Khmer Rouge never inspected the containers, and exact contents have not been disclosed, but Mayaguez had loaded containers from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon nine days before the fall of Saigon. The captain had a U.S. government letter only to be opened in certain emergency circumstances, which he destroyed.
At 06:13 on 15 May, the first phase of the operation began with the transfer by three HH-53s of D/1/4 Marines to the Holt. As the Holt slowly came alongside, USAF A-7D aircraft saturated Mayaguez with tear gas munitions. Equipped with gas masks, the Marines at 07:25 hours then conducted one of the few hostile ship-to-ship boardings by the U.S. Navy since the American Civil War, securing the vessel after an hour-long search, finding her empty.
In what began as a rescue operation became a full-fledged battle between U.S. Marines and Khmer Rouge forces, and finally ended with some 15 Marines killed and 41 wounded. On May 15th, President Ford addressed the nation regarding the incident and reported the incident was now over.
Here is that address from May 15th, 1975
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