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Ly Son fishermen put their lives on the line

Update: July, 15/2014 - 09:46
Fishermen in Ly Son Island of Quang Ngai Province are united in their efforts to continue operating in their traditional fishing grounds, which they see as their role in maintaining and protecting national sovereignty. — VNA/VNS Photo Huu Cuong

QUANG NGAI  (VNS) — At 42, Nguyen Gia Vien already has more than 25 years of deep sea fishing under his belt.

The fisherman from Ly Son District in Quang Ngai Province said fishing is more than a means of livelihood for him and his colleagues.

During long fishing trips, they always take along several national flags to make sure they always hoist one whose colours had not faded.

"It's a matter of national pride," he said. "Our lives are integrated with the sea. When the national sovereignty of the sea is at stake, our lives are at stake."

Ly Son District, which has an area of about 10 sq.km, is located nearly 30km off the Quang Ngai coast. Besides the main island, which is called Ly Son, the district encompasses the Little Island (Dao Be) and Mu Cu Islet (Hon Mu Cu).

The district has a population of about 20,000 people.

Ly Son houses the Hoang Sa Bac Hai flotilla memorial and exhibition house, where many artifacts and documents proving Viet Nam's sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Archipelago are displayed.

For many generations, island residents have been used to facing risks associated with the sea. Now, with China's placement of the oil rig in the East Sea since early May, there are other risks, but the fishermen are unfazed.

They have said they will continue to work in nation's traditional fishing grounds.

Vien considers Hoang Sa waters a fishing area that was frequented by his father and grandfather.

"The previous generation managed to go that far without modern boats. We have modern equipment now. We can keep up that tradition."

One of his colleagues said Vien had the ability to locate fishing shoals and currents. His three boats have an average catch of 200 tonnes per trip to Hoang Sa, which he reaches after 17 hours at sea.

While at sea, Vien considers it part of his mission to help other fishermen in need, in case of an accident or worse. "Fishermen have to help one another and stay united," he said.

Nguyen Quoc Chinh, chairman of the An Hai Fishermen's Association (An Hai is a commune in Ly Son District), said they kept fishermen connected and support them to expand their fishing area.

"After each trip, they typically contribute to a common fund so that we can help them when something bad happens, like losing the boat or suffering an accident," Chinh said.

Each boat is equipped with a communication tool called I-com that can be used to communicate with rescuers, other fishermen and surveillance officers.

"In some cases, fishermen even call others through the I-com to share their shoal," Chinh said.

When encountering foreign fishing boats, boat owners communicate via I-com to tell all Vietnamese fishermen in the area to hoist the national flag on the bunk, marking the nation's sovereignty, he added.

Pham Quang Tinh, a fifth-generation descendant of former Hoang Sa troop leader and Ly Son native Pham Quang Anh, born in the late 18th and early 19th century, said the people here consider the sea their bloodline.

"Even with the number of unaccounted graves you can see on the island, people here love the sea and have learned how to protect it throughout the centuries," he said.

Pham Quang Anh achieved legendary fame as a soldier for his strength and navigation skills. Hoang Sa naval troops were once led by him to eliminate piracy in the East Sea and maintain the country's sovereignty.

With such a proud history, fishermen here say the aggressive acts they have encountered from Chinese "fishermen", the resultant narrowing of their fishing areas and the possible threat of outside force are not going to stop them from returning to the sea.

"We have the law and the international community behind us, and also the fishing surveillance officers and maritime officers, as well as fellow fishermen," Vien said.

"We are mentally prepared to take any risk." — VNS

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