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Pompous and tyrannical Captain Hart is the skipper of the Fa Tsan (derisively called the "Fat Annie"), a broken-down ferryboat running between Hong Kong and Macao. One day the Hong Kong police toss aboard Mark Conrad, a drunken, cynical Austrian exile, providing him with a one-way ticket to Macao. He has been expelled following his latest brawl in a nightclub. Hart is disgusted with what he calls a "stinking piece of human refuse" but has no alternative but to take Conrad to Macao. However, the authorities there refuse to allow Conrad to come ashore, and, since he cannot return to Hong Kong, he is condemned to live permanently on the ferry. Despite Hart's opposition, Conrad finds to his surprise that he has friends: Liz Ferrers, a schoolteacher who escorts a group of children on a weekly ferry trip; and the crew, who defy their skipper by offering the exile food, drink, furniture, and friendship. Conrad begins to show that he is more than a drunken derelict. He helps rescue survivors of a blazing junk, behaves heroically when a typhoon strikes the ferry, and even takes the wheel of the vessel when Hart is incapacitated. The storm propels the ship to the China coast, and here it is boarded by pirates who terrorize the wealthier passengers. Aided by Hart and the crew, Conrad defeats the pirates and comes close to getting the storm-battered ferry back to port; but she sinks in Hong Kong harbor. As the "Fat Annie" goes down, Hart concedes a grudging admiration for Conrad, who has salvaged from the wreck self-respect and a future.