Restless seamen stuck at port amid pandemic

August 20, 2021 - 08:00

After four days waiting for COVID-19 tests, Nguyễn Minh Vương and five other seamen feel restless.

A medical worker takes a sample of a fisherman for a COVID-19 test after returning from sea in the central province of Quảng Ngãi. — VNA/VNS Photo Lê Ngọc Phước

QUẢNG NGÃI — After four days waiting for COVID-19 tests, Nguyễn Minh Vương and five other seamen are starting to feel bored out of their minds.

They have spent two months at sea fishing but have now returned to Sa Huỳnh Port in Phổ Thạnh Ward in the central province of Quảng Ngãi.

They have anchored more than 200m from the shore for quarantine to prevent coronavirus transmission.

Vương missed his four-month-old baby so much that one night he decided to swim to the shore at 1am.

Trần Thị Kim Dung, Vương’s wife, could not hide her worry because due to Vương’s returning home, their family violated pandemic prevention regulations.

The Quảng Ngãi Sea is home to tens of thousands of fishermen. After being out at sea for anywhere between 10 days to several months, they want to go back home as soon as they return but know it violates regulations.

In the middle of last month, Võ Phát’s ship entered Thọ Quang Port in Đà Nẵng central city. COVID-19 prevented him from going back to his house in Phổ Thạnh Ward.

After many days considering what to do, he decided to return home despite the regulations. Although he tried to hide, local authorities still discovered him and he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 a day later.

During the past week, at different seaports in Quảng Ngãi Province including Tịnh Kỳ, Lý Sơn and Sa Huỳnh, hundreds of fishing ships anchored after many months at sea.

At Sa Huỳnh Port alone there are 74 fishing ships and 339 seamen waiting, mostly local residents.

Nguyễn Tính, one of the fishermen, told Nhân Dân (The People) newspaper that after many months at sea, they had ran out of food and drink so wanted to go home.

“We have quarantined here for 10 days, and we don’t know whether we will go to the collective quarantine centre or not, or when we can go home,” he said.

Trương Thành Quang, another fisherman, said that he was not allowed to go home, and had to wait for food and drink from his family although his house was only two kilometres from the anchorage. He has not been informed when he can leave his ship.

Phạm Văn Thơm, owner of a ship, said he had more than three tonnes of seafood in the ship’s store and needed to find a way to sell it to pay off debts.

“If we have to pay fees for quarantine, we cannot find money anywhere because at present it is so difficult to sell seafood," he said. "We must pay off the cost of going fishing for a few months, and there is no money left to take care of the expenses incurred.”

After two months of the new outbreak with hundreds of new cases in the community, Quảng Ngãi Province applied social distancing based on Government Directive 15 and 16, especially at Sa Huỳnh Port, which was considered the centre of an outbreak.

Chairman of Phổ Thạnh Ward People’s Committee Nguyễn Văn Lượng said that the ward had created two quarantine centres, at Long Thạnh Kindergarten and  Phổ Thạnh Primary School.

The two centres can take 120 people, but with many fishermen rushed to the province they do not have enough infrastructure and manpower to fulfil the demand for quarantine.

With the coronavirus on the radar for about 18 months, it has caused the fisherman many difficulties, including multiple fees for quarantine.

“We do not have enough capacity to set up more quarantine centres because the fishermen are too crowded. As for quarantine fees, local people do not agree because of the high cost. We are asking for direction from upper-level authorities,” said the chairman.

Supportive policies are being considered.

Senior lieutenant Phan Vũ Tùng, head of the Sa Huỳnh Border Guard’s checkpoint, said that at present, more and more fishing ships were returning.

“We will think about plans for helping them without affecting COVID-19 prevention and control work,” he said. — VNS