|Praying for luck: A Fishing Goodwill Festival along the coast of Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa Province, brings together ships of many fishing villages. They pray to the Southern Sea Lord, Duc Ong Nam Hai, or the Whale God for help while fishing out at sea. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan
Defying aggression from Chinese ships, fishermen in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa are still bringing in daily loads of tuna, squid, mackerel and other high-value seafood. Bui Hoai Nam reports from Da Nang.
Summer is always the best time for a big catch in the deep-sea fishing areas of Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa
Despite China's illegal placement of the Haiyang Shiyou-981 drilling rig and deployments of hundreds of vessels including armed ships in Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf on May 2 in the Hoang Sa islands, thousands of fishermen in the central cities and provinces headed their vessels to the Vietnamese fishing grounds as usual.
These fishermen hoped to catch their load of fish during the best season in Hoang Sa Islands - home of tuna, mackerel and squid - the major high-value seafood in the area.
Tran Toan, 55, launched the second logistics vessel working in the Hoang Sa district, off the coast of Da Nang City, to participate in the summer bumper catch.
The vessel would bring him and his crew of 24 workers a double income, while his first boat was launched two years ago.
Two vessels would produce a revenue of VND200 million (US$9,540) every month during the fishing period, he said.
Toan is the fourth generation of his family fishing in Hoang Sa Islands of Viet Nam. Two of his five children have also become fishermen, as were his ancestors.
Toan joined a group of four logistics vessels in the sea of Hoang Sa that provide fuel, food and collect fish from a fleet of about 100 fishing trawlers from Da Nang, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh.
"Hoang Sa Sea is the largest fishing areas in Viet Nam. I began fishing here with my father when I was 10. It has been my family's traditional trade since our ancestors fished in the sea during past centuries. My sons have gradually inherited the trade," Toan said.
"We work in groups of fishing vessels as a powerful team, as we protect ourselves from natural disasters and the dangers of being attacked by strange armed ships," he said.
He explained that his trawler was threatened by water cannons from Chinese ships when he navigated his vessels crossing the Hoang Sa Islands waters.
The logistics vessel, which was built at a cost of VND3.2 billion ($146,120), helps Vietnamese trawlers fish in the sea longer by providing fuel, ice, food, fresh water and other necessities at sea.
"Our group of four logistics ships carry 70 tonnes of commodities each, as orders from the fishing vessels. These vessels will extend their fishing time in the sea from two weeks to four or five weeks, as they do not waste time carrying home their catch and loading new supplies," Toan explained.
"Fishermen just focus on fishing, as they have more time hunting fish shoals. They also benefit 100 per cent from saving fuel needed to return home, because each return costs them VND50 million ($2m280)," he said, adding that each fisherman could earn an average income of VND20 million ($910).
Working groups in deep-sea fishery have emerged as a means to remain effective and safe among fishermen in the central coastal region.
Each group comprises at least four or five vessels. They work at a distance of five or seven nautical miles in order to support or rescue each other in case of emergency.
Nguyen Van Dieu, who is captain and owner of a vessel in Da Nang, said his crew joined a group of six ships working in Hoang Sa Islands.
"We often faced threatening actions from Chinese Coast Guard forces when we were fishing alone on the sea of Hoang Sa. Water cannon attacks and ramming or pursuing our vessels occurred when we met them (Chinese Coast Guard ships)," Dieu said.
"We, however, called for help from other ships in the group and eased the tension because Chinese Coast Guard ships could not threaten two or three vessels at the same time. It's our power," Dieu said.
"Most of the fishing vessels are built of wood, so they are vulnerable to collision against Chinese steel ships," he recalled.
Dieu said all fishing vessels are equipped with two-way radios for communications around the clock.
"We also receive rescue and navigational guidance from our border guard or marine police. Fishermen feel well-protected when they receive support and assistance from Viet Nam's Fisheries Surveillance Force," Dieu said.
|Aggression: AChinese fishing boat hits a Vietnamese ship. — VOV.vn
He added that fishermen are encouraged by the State as each deep-sea fishing vessel receives fuel aid of VND300 million each year.
"The waters around Hoang Sa Islands have been a fishing ground of Viet Nam for centuries. The fishery has been passed on from generation to generation of Vietnamese people. It's our home," Dieu said.
The 40-year-old fisherman added that he hopes to have enough funds and capacity to own a steel fishing ship for high-capacity work and fishing.
Le Thi Hue, 48, owner of two trawlers, said they were fishing in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
"We have received full support and commitment from the city's administration for long voyages in the country's sovereign waters off Hoang Sa and Truong Sa," Hue said.
"Fishing in the sea has been the prosperous trade for fishermen for centuries. It's the reason that we keep on fishing in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, despite the dangers," she noted.
Hue, from Thanh Khe District, said her husband and 32 crew members died in the historical Typhoon Chanchu in 2006.
"My husband is buried under the sea. I keep working in the fishing trade that my husband left. My first son also captains a deep-sea fishing trawler in Hoang Sa," she said.
"My son and I always believe that my husband's soul still accompanies us in supporting our fishing trips every day. It's also the reason that we (30 crew members) still fish in the sea of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa as an act of defence of the country's sovereignty," the 48-year-old woman said.
The district Farmers' Association's Le Nguyen Khanh said the district fleet of 55 trawlers, with some 500 fishermen, plans to harvest 5,800 tonnes of fish this year.
"Twenty-five trawlers from the fleet work in Hoang Sa. These members have received fuel aid for their long voyages from the city authority since 2010.
"Around 90 per cent of the total catch, including tuna, mackerel and grouper from Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, has been exported," he said.
In boosting the nation's deep-sea fisheries strategy, the central city has approved an eight-year, deep-sea fishing production project worth VND1.1 trillion ($52 million), to increase productivity and provide larger vessels equipped with global positioning and fish-detection devices.
The project will develop a fleet of 400 trawlers to operate in 15,000 sq. km of fishing seas.
|Surprise chase: Ship owner and captain Nguyen Van Chi of An Hai Commune in Ly Son Island District says that he was fishing within Viet Nam's martitime territory earlier this month when he was unexpectedly chased by three Chinese ships. — Photo VN Express
Last month, the government debuted the Viet Nam Fisheries Resources Surveillance, operating under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's General Department of Fisheries. The force's key tasks include patrolling the country's waters, monitoring fishing activities and detecting and handling violations.
"We acts as the sea guard for the country and fishermen. We have made a strong commitment to protect our fishermen and the fishing grounds of the country's sea and islands," said Tran Thanh Lam, head of Da Nang-based surveillance team.
"All our members keep an eye on patrolling the sea and providing assistance to fishermen during emergencies. We do all we can to create safe conditions for them at work," Lam said.
He said the patrolling of the country's fishing ground and water with fishermen would set up a powerful defensive wall against the foreign violations of the country's sea and islands.
Huynh Quang Vu, a fisherman from Binh Son District in Quang Ngai, who has 25-years of experience fishing in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, said, "I know every coral reef in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. Fishing is part of my life and I am the breadwinner for our family. It's unchanged for me and my crew when we sail over the sea of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. Each fisherman will be a warrior in protecting the country's sea and islands," Vu said.
Vice director of Quang Ngai Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Phan Huy Hoang said the province would offer support for fishermen during their trips in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
"We continuously inform all fishermen in the province about safe trips, unite with Marine Police and the Fisheries Surveillance Force to protect the country's sea sovereignty," said Hoang.
|Net profits: Fishing villages in Binh Thuan Province harvest more than 150,000 tonnes of fish annually. — VNA/VNS Photo Manh Linh
In Thua Thien-Hue, over 250 trawlers of the fleet of 2,000 vessels joined as a team with border guards, Marine Police and Fisheries Surveillance – the major law enforcement forces - in the creation of the live links of a chain against the bullying actions and violations in Viet Nam's waters.
Nguyen Ngoc Aùi, from Phu Van District, said his family had made their living from fishing in the sea of Hoang Sa for generations.
"I have been prosperous from the fishing trade. The Hoang Sa and Truong Sa fishing grounds are our home and provide a living for millions of fishermen in the central coastal region," Aùi said.
Nguyen Luong Hien, chairman of the province's Fishery Association, said fishing vessels have been haunted by Chinese ships since early this May.
"The association encourages fishermen to work as a group in the sea to unite against bullies from Chinese ships," Hien said.
During a conference on deep-sea fishing, Government ministries, agencies and local administrations agreed to develop new funding and policy mechanisms to support deep-sea fishermen.
The State Bank of Viet Nam Governor, Nguyen Van Binh committed VND10 trillion (US$476 million) in loans at an interest rate of six per cent for fishermen building offshore fishing vessels.
"We will create favourable conditions for fishermen, including low interest loans, to help them build modern fishing vessels for offshore fishing and improve the quality of fishing hauls," Binh said.
"Each steel vessel needs a fund of VND7 billion to build and a fee of VND1 billion for extended fishing. Most fishermen could not find a deposit for a such a large loan, while the vessels are their only source for their livelihoods," said Binh.
"We offer them a longer payback period of over 10 years and allow them to pledge their ships as collateral for the loans," he said.
The governor also said effective coordination between the ministries of agriculture and rural development, industry and trade, local governments, and businesses was needed to help create a financial return for fishermen.
Dock and logistics
A fishery logistics centre and a ship dock were built on Da Tay and Song Tu Tay Islands in Truong Sa Archipelago to provide safe shelters for fishermen.
Chu Minh Son, head of the Da Tay Island fishery logistic centre, said it has provided 6,000 litres of fuel and 75 cubic metres of fresh water and food for 72 vessels since early this year.
"The centre also provides first aid and medical treatment for fishermen during their long trips. We have developed branches on the islands of Toc Tan, Sinh Ton and Da Lon to support logistics and collect fish from fishermen on the sea," Son said, adding that fishing vessels were also offered free of charge repairs on Song Tu Tay dock.
Additionally, the Quang Ngai People's Committee plans to build a rescue and research centre on Ly Son island, near Hoang Sa islands, to provide full medical and communication services for fishermen.
The province has 5,700 vessels, of which 1,800 trawlers and 40,000 fishermen work in deep-sea areas of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
The province also launched the first steel fishing ship in Ly Son Island last year.
The ship allows fishermen to work as far as 2,000 nautical miles at sea with a loading capacity of 600 tonnes.
Since 2012, the Co Luy shipyard in Tu Nghia District has built 100 high-capacity trawlers for fishermen in the province, while other ship builders also provided 100 new fishing vessels annually.
The provincial fishermen catch between 95,000 and 112,000 tonnes of fish and seafood each year.
Also, the telecommunications group, Viettel, has provided unlimited pre-paid cards for 100,000 subscribers in coastal regional provinces from Nghe An to Khanh Hoa since 2011.
Le Canh Hung, a member of Da Nang-based Viettel, said the service is only provided for deep-sea fishermen.
"We offer low cost communications service for fishermen with non-stop contacts. Fishermen can find various services from rescue or emergency calls, forecast information or receiver's charges," Hung said.
"Our service covers Truong Sa Islands and other sea and islands of Viet Nam. It offers easier and cheaper communications services for fishermen working in the sea, and provides confidence for longer fishing voyages," he said.
"I believe that I could build a large steel ship from bumper fishing in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa," Toan said. — VNS