Monday, October 24 2016


The men who shine a sovereign light

Update: April, 28/2015 - 16:28
Guide at sea: Dam Van Khoi, the head of the lighthouse station of Song Tu Tay Island. — VNS Photo Hoang Duong

For decades, workers stationed in lighthouses on the islands of the Truong Sa (Spratlys) Archipelago never let the light go out at night, and in doing so keeps the flame of the country's sovereignty burning bright. Hoang Duong reports.

Standing next to the 38-metre high lighthouse on the Song Tu Tay (Southwest Cay) Island, Dam Van Khoi, chief of the lighthouse, pointed around to show off the beauty of the island.

He also pointed at the statue of the famous General Tran Hung Dao, who beat Yuan-Mongol invaders in the 13th century, and the dock, where the fishing boats shelter during storms.

"The island, when viewed from the roof of the lighthouse is extremely beautiful," he said with evident pride.

Born in Hai Phong, Khoi has 18 years of experience working in Truong Sa, and every two to three years, or even four years he visits home at least once.

He has worked in most of the lighthouses on the archipelago, except Simh Ton, Nam Yet and the Truong Sa Lon islands.

Last Tet (Lunar New Year), he did not even go home to enjoy the festival.

"During the time close to Tet, I miss my family very much, but the task here is also important and it is for the country, so I will always be here to complete the task. I have two children, aged 15 and 10 years old. The children are good, and listen to their mother so I have peace of mind," he said.

Standing taller: Nam Yet Island Lighthouse.


Currently, the Truong Sa Island District (of Khanh Hoa Province) has nine lighthouses, built on the islands of Song Tu Tay, Da Lat, Da Lon, An Bang, Tien Nu, Sinh Ton, Son Ca, Nam Yet and Truong Sa Lon. They are managed by the East Sea Maritime Safety Assurance Company of the Ministry of Transport.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated on the island according to the tradition with banh chung (glutinous rice cakes) and red parallel sentences. The islanders also make peach blossom by cutting pine branches and attaching fake flowers to them.

Talking about his work, Khoi said, the Song Tu Tay lighthouse was built in 1993, and was the first located on the Truong Sa Islands.

This lighthouse is a circular shaped tower, with a height of 38 metres.

The State is always aware of the importance of safety for marine navigation so it decided to build this lighthouse for Vietnamese as well as foreign ships and to make them think of it as a lighthouse of Viet Nam, asserting our sovereignty over the sea," he said.

Similar to Khoi, Tran Van Ca, born in 1970, and also in Hai Phong, has spent two decades working in the lighthouses of Truong Sa.

He is currently working at the Nam Yet Island lighthouse, and expects to get annual leave this June.

Following this, he will celebrate one more Tet festival on the island. Ca said the Nam Yet Island lighthouse was put into operation in 2013, built in an octagonal shape, which imitates the Flag Tower of Ha Noi.

Currently, this lighthouse is looked after by three workers.

Diligent work

Although their lives are difficult, what we saw was that all the staff members felt a passion for their job.

Every year, Khoi and Ca, as well as their colleagues are moved by the East Sea Maritime Safety Assurance Company to other islands.

Their mission is to ensure that the lights operate from 5.30pm in the evening till 5.30am in the morning.

Having worked in seven of the nine lighthouses in Truong Sa, with Ca, each lighthouse is not merely used for the task of navigating vessels operating across the East Sea, but is also a milestone for establishing Viet Nam's territorial sovereignty.

"The lighthouses are like "magic eyes" that look after our sacred seas and islands' sovereignty," he said proudly.

The lighthouses also act as a fulcrum for the fishermen working in Truong Sa.

If fishermen's boats are damaged or lost in the night, they only have to see the light of the lighthouse flashing to regain their peace of mind, and not worry about becoming disoriented.

Thus, the workers have to live far from home and they still feel proud of this work.

"The hardest thing during the operation of the lighthouse is the technical equipment's limitations. If some equipment has faults, we cannot fix it here; we have to send it to the mainland for fixing. Therefore, we always have spare facilities for replacement," Ca said.

Living on the island, although there are many difficulties because of the lack of fresh food, the lighthouse staff always receives help from the soldiers stationed on the island.

"When we run out of fresh food, the soldiers provide for us. Although these are simply some vegetables, meat, salt and garlic, they make our hearts warm," said Ca. — VNS

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