ST. MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - As shrimp boats work the Mississippi Sound on Thursday, there is one less captain on the water.
Ben Nguyen, known as Captain Ben, died unexpectedly three weeks ago at the age of 49.
His family was faced with the shock of his loss as the opening of shrimp season was bearing down, but they were determined to honor his legacy.
“We knew we had to make him proud,” said his daughter Amanda, “So that’s why we had to pick back up and just get going.”
After years of working as a deckhand, and doing other enterprises, Captain Ben had built a fleet of eight shrimp and crab boats.
Two years ago, he bought a small dock in St. Martin where he sold seafood year-round.
“Dad was the most selfless, determined and hard-working man I knew,” Amanda said on Wednesday while selling shrimp from the dock with her sister Taylor. “He was one of those people where any time he wanted something done, he’d get it done. He’d find a way even if it like seemed impossible. That was just him, he was very driven, very innovative, always had a lot of ideas, even if they were very outlandish ideas.
“He was also a really good father, a very loving husband, an amazing uncle and a very compassionate friend. So many people thought of my dad as a brother, because of the way he talked to you made you feel really important. He just had a way with words. It’s just a gift that not a lot of people have.”
Amanda said she was struck by the people who reached out to her with warm stories of her father.
“It’s just a testament to how powerful this gift he had was," she said.
Captain Ben was the son of immigrants who started working as a deckhand on shrimp boats as a teenager. He worked a number of different businesses over the years but eventually came back to shrimping.
He bought his first boat six years ago and quickly expanded his seafood empire, first selling from the docks at the Biloxi shrimp harbor, then briefly from a store on Oak Street before buying the dock on Washington Avenue just north of the Fort Bayou bridge.
“He loved being out on the water,” said his son Benjamin, who will be staying with the business.
Captain Ben had been preparing for the upcoming shrimp season when he died from a heart attack just 10 days shy of his 50th birthday.
He left behind his wife, Trina, and three children who were determined to continue his legacy.
His son Benjamin paused while thinking of his father’s work ethic. He said he knew what he had to do.
“We’re not going to let this die out,” he said. “I’m going to make him proud.
“Yeah I just had to, you know, just sit down and think about it, do everything, fill in some big shoes, you know. I just made a bunch of phone calls, and I just did everything I had to do to make things right and perfect for the opening day today.”
Standing on the dock on Thursday as the Captain Ben 3 headed out for opening day, Benjamin was proud of what the family had accomplished.
“I just sent the boat out, and they’re going to get fuel and ice now and tonight, we’re going to try to get some luck," he said.
Amanda was equally proud.
“We just know my dad, if it was up to him, we would have opened up right away,” she said. “This dock, he just put so much hard work into it. He came to work every single day, seven days a week.”
The flurry of work preparing for the season has served as a distraction for the family, but their hearts are still heavy.
“I don’t think we’ll ever fully bounce back from it,” Amanda said, “but we just know we got to keep going just for him.”
His spirit will be on the water as the boats that bear his name drag their nets.