Viet Nam News
BẾN TRE — It is a risky, dangerous job with little protection and not much income, but many people in Bến Tre Province dive into rivers and search for scrap metal, sunk boats and other pieces of usable junk.
Some do it in groups, and others work independently.
Nguyễn Thanh Dũng, 52, leads a group of five divers in the southern province. He has been doing this for 32 years, he told the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper.
Dũng said that when he was a child, often followed his father to dive in rivers in Cần Thơ City to earn a living. He learnt much from his father. He has followed in his father’s footsteps, earning a living in Bến Tre.
The equipment Dũng and his team use is rudimentary: an oxygen air pump and a long plastic tube that they put into their mouth to breathe.
Dũng said apart from swimming well, a person, who wants to dive deep had to be brave and in really good health to be able to stay for long on the river bed.
“When I reach the river bed, all I see is black, and I grope in the dark to find something,” he said.
If he does not find anything or feels too cold, he would come up soon.
In the rainy season, when the rivers has a lot of fish, he would dive to catch them, Dũng said. At other times, he dived to grope for scrap or sunk boats.
After more than three decades of diving, he has been able to save enough to build a small house.
Another diver, 67-year-old Trần Văn Mi, has almost 45 years of experience, having started in 1972.
“At first, I was afraid, but I kept trying because I was poor and had no choice,” he said.
The highest depth he could dive to was 67m, when he was in his 20s, Mi said.
He said his wife and he had sailed their boat to many rivers Trà Vinh, Bến Tre and Vĩnh Long provinces to dive and earn living.
Until a couple of decades ago, many boats were caught in trouble at the Ba Kẽm whirlpool on a section of the Tiền River running through Bến Tre Province, particularly in November and December each year.
Mi said he does not remember how many times he has dived there to find boats.
But he has a strong memory of one boat, carrying about 250 tonnes of rice, that sank in the area. Many divers were dispatched from HCM City to tie a rope and salvage the boat but failed. The divers did not know the river’s flow or the river bed very well.
The rescue team then allowed him to try, and he took just 10 minutes to tie the rope.
"Because I know the river by heart," he said.
Dũng said that one of the dangers that divers could face, when they dived deep, was crocodiles.
Another danger was physical damage from the pressure. Mi said that diving many times, especially at depths of 60 metres, would result in pain in the ears.
Mi was forced to stop his job 15 years ago after an accident.
Trần Thị On, Mi’s wife, said she was on the boat then, and held the plastic tube for her husband to dive.
“He did not emerge for a long time. I was very scared. Then, when he finally came up, he looked faint and had blanked out.
“I had to use medicated oil to make his body warm and rush him to the hospital,” she said.
After the incident, Mi’s legs swelled up and there were signs of hearing loss.
Mi misses his job a lot.
“I had done it for long, nearly all my life. So I miss it,” he said.
His children now continue his job.
“But I tell them not to dive too deep, to protect their health.”— VNS