|Heading to sea: Fishermen of An Vinh Commune prepare their nets before fishing offshore.
Le Khuan volunteers to connect fishermen at sea to his office on land – without receiving a salary. Nguyen Ha report.
Fishermen in An Vinh Commune Ly Son District in the central province of Quang Ngai are more confident now of getting help from each other in times of trouble when they go fishing.
This is thanks to the An Vinh Fishery Trade Union and its deputy chairman Le Khuan, who is the only the person in contact with the An Vinh fleet in the Hoang Sa (Parcels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys) seas.
Fisherman Khuan, 50, has volunteered to work as a coordinator and a bridge between the fishermen in his commune without taking a salary.
As captain, Khuan has had to make acquaintance with the essentials of office work such as papers, documents, computers and the Internet, as well as using ICOM (recognised as a reliable two-way radio around the world) to do any work relating to the fishing industry and fishermen.
"I had to invest three months in learning how to do all this work quickly and manage the trade union. Thank God, everything is going smoothly now," Khuan said.
The An Vinh Commune's People's Committee has set up a small room for the trade union and for Khuan to work.
Apart from working at the office, Khuan is in close contact with the fishermen to hear their desires, difficulties such as their losses, and their proposals.
Every day, he opens his ICOM at 6pm to contact the An Vinh fleet in the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands.
"I'm the point of contact to receive and supply information such as accidents at sea, the breakdown of a ship or fishermen's work being interrupted by foreign ships," said Khuan.
He recalled, "Last month, we had three Nguyen Van Loc, Le Truc and Vo Minh Vuong trawlers fishing near the Hoang Sa Islands. They informed me via ICOM that they had caught a good haul of fish of more than 10 tonnes each. I felt happy to hear them laugh loudly."
There are both happy and sad stories to tell, said Khuan. For example, this year, only Nguyen Gia Vien's ship has made a profit, while many others have not.
Khuan left school at the age of 15 to do fishing as a hired worker on the Hoang Sa seas. He tried to save money to contribute 25 per cent of the capital needed to buy his first ship, along with some other people.
"Each year, I went on a dozen fishing tours to the Hoang Sa seas. Each time I clashed with Chinese fishermen or patrol ships. They confiscated all my belongings and catch, and let me have only enough fuel to return to Sa Ky Port.
"After each loss, my wife told me that I should give up fishing to do electronic repairs at home. But I thought if I did that, who would go fishing?" said Khuan.
Despite all these problems, he continued to fish and suffer losses caused by the Chinese ships.
Khuan said he cannot remember any cases of plunders and beatings by the Chinese force, except for two cases in 1999 and 2005.
He recalled that in 1999 his means of livelihood were plundered by the Chinese force.
"I could not imagine how they knew so well of my movements after I left the shore for the Hoang Sa seas. First, I met a large Chinese ship and they let me go. But 15 days later, when we were very happy because our ship was full of fish, suddenly that ship rushed in. They forced us to kneel on the freeboard deck and then jumped into our ship to take all our things, including the catch.
"They only left us some fuel to return home," said Khuan.
He then sold that ship and bought a larger one along with his younger brother Le Phuoc.
"We again encountered a Chinese ship. They took all our things, after taking photos and writing down our ship's numbers."
|Communication: Le Khuan talks with fellow fishermen via his ICOM. — VNS Photos Duy Ngoi
However, Khuan and his fishermen have no fear and have been fishing at the Hoang Sa seas over the past 28 years.
In 2008, Khuan and his son Le Huu Phuc decided to temporarily leave their business at home to travel to Malaysia as hired fishing workers.
"We were 15 Ly Son fishermen. We were abandoned in Malaysia without money for almost four months because our Vietnamese broker failed sign a contract with any Malaysian employer for us to work.
"We faced hunger and my son and I had to spend more than VND20 million (US$950) for our daily expenses in Malaysia," Khuan recalled.
"Finally, we realised that there is no place like home. Even if we face difficulties, we are still the owners of our business. I resumed fishing at the Hoang Sa seas until 2011. After suffering losses several times, I decided to give up fishing and invest my time in repairing electronic items.
"I earn VND3 to 4 million per month, besides cultivating of garlic, helping my family to maintain a stable life," added Khuan.
In July 2012, the An Vinh Fishery Trade Union was set up and Khuan was assigned to work as deputy chairman of the organisation.
"The position might seem to be a majestic one to others, but it keeps me very busy because I'm a fisherman, not an office worker," Khuan said.
Despite facing several problems, he does his work very well, said Le Van Chau, secretary of the An Vinh Party Committee.
"Our fishermen and authorities appreciate Khuan's efforts and contributions. He works hard without a salary. I have proposed that the province should pay him, but we have to wait," said Chau.
It was 7pm and Khuan was working on his ICOM. A fisherman named Vo Minh Vuong informed Khuan that despite difficulties he had caught a good haul of fish.
"We are weighing anchor and will be back soon. You should get wine to welcome us," Vuong said. — VNS