|Nguyen Van My works at his Sea Call Centre to update offshore fishermen with the weather forecast, keeping them safe from risks at sea. – VNS Photo Truong Quang Nam
by Hang Nguyen
QUANG BINH (VNS) — Almost every day, especially during the stormy season, 50-year-old Nguyen Van My can be found sitting in his own office in Xuan Hoa Village, central Quang Binh Province, walkie-talkie in hand.
"I call this the Sea Call Centre," My says. "I'm particularly alert now as the 11th tropical storm of this year is forecast to hit the central coastline tomorrow."
Fourteen years ago, My volunteered to collect weather forecasts of tropical storms and remind offshore fishing vessels via his call centre. He has continued the work ever since then.
My, who has suffered blindness from birth, has been dubbed by local fishermen as "the East Sea's blind knight."
His motivation to set up the call centre from scratch came in the year 2000 after a number of fishermen went out to sea never to return.
"After that, their families were living in sorrow," he says. "Their fishing boats were equipped with walkie-talkies to connect with land, but there was no base station to communicate with at that time."
My says that if he was not blind, he would have become a fisherman himself. It was his love of this livelihood that persuaded him to borrow VND30 million (US$1,400) from his relatives and buy the base.
His wife supported the idea even though they were short of money, had three children to support and relied on her income from selling fish.
During the first days of his work, My struggled because he had to learn to operate the centre purely through his senses of touch and hearing. After a few weeks though, he developed a successful system.
Nguyen Van Son, a 52-year-old fisherman from central Quang Nam Province, says he does not know what would have happened one frightening day last year if My was not on duty at his centre. Son sent an SOS when his fishing boat and its crew of seven broke down and drifted out to sea.
"We were running out of food and exhausted," he recalls. "We were able to contact the Sea Call centre, then we asked My to help and he passed the message to two fishing boats near our location. They came and saved us."
One month later, Son visited My's house and gave him tens kilos of fish to say thank you.
Nguyen Van Nien, 50, a fisherman in Xuan Hoa Village, has another tale of gratitude. He was fishing offshore when his mother fell seriously ill back in his village.
"My contacted me from the centre to tell me that my mother's condition was very serious. I came back immediately and had time to say a final goodbye before she passed away. I will always be grateful to My for making sure I got to see her one last time."
Son and Nien are just two of thousands of fishermen in the central region who have benefited from My's call centre.
My says he can contact fishing vessels at a maximum distance of 120 nautical miles. This means he also can contact boats from nearby provinces.
Many local fishermen from Binh Dinh, Da Nang or Quang Nam have visited his house offering thanks over the past 14 years.
In 2004, My received a letter of congratulation from then-President Tran Duc Luong, who wrote that My's call centre contributed to mitigating natural disaster risks which fishermen could face in the sea. He added that My deserved to be praised for his effort to overcome all obstacles to integrate into the community and help others.
In August 2004, he was awarded a "Glorious Viet Nam" prize by the Government, which honours outstanding organisations and individuals that have overcome countless difficulties in their lives.
He was recently featured in a televised programme titled "Connecting the East Sea" earlier this month, which called for donations from domestic and international individuals and organisations to fund the installation of modern devices in fishing boats nation-wide.
"I hope the programme will be successful so fishermen can be more protected from the elements," he says.
Pham Van Hoa, chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Xuan Commune, said that My's family is one of the poorest households in the commune but the locality is too short of money to provide him with any additional financial assistance.
"He does this from his own kindness and doesn't ask for anything," Hoa admits.
The East Sea's blind knight ends his story and goes back to work. He picks up his walkie-talkie. "Hello, this is the Sea Call Centre. Fishermen are advised to find anchorage as soon as possible because the latest update from the National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting says the eye of the storm is very near the coastline of Quang Tri – Quang Ngai provinces. Wind speeds range from 134 to 149km per hour."
My ends the message, his job done for now.
"Being a fisherman means is a risky business. I'm just doing what I can to help people." — VNS