|Unassuming hero: Pham Hong Hai repairs fishing nets during days off from high seas. — VNS Photo Bach Van
A superhero to those whose lives he has saved, Pham Hong Hai simply says that an army man never abandons his mates. Bach Van and Ha Nguyen reports.
Fishermen call him their samurai because he is always ready to help people in difficult or dangerous circumstances.
Pham Hong Hai, 58, a fisherman, owner of a fleet of four ships and a resident of Nghia An Village in central Quang Ngai Province's Tu Nghia District, recalls a rescue that took place in September 2000.
At that time, Hai's ship was out fishing at Hon Gai seas off central Quang Ninh Province. Though informed about an approaching storm, he and his crew were unprepared for its sudden arrival.
Later, Hai heard a cry for help echoing from the sea from six crew members of the ship of Vo Hong Phuoc, one of his neighbours. His own crew urged him to flee from the storm first and return to rescue the ship and its crew later.
"No, we should try our utmost to rescue them by all means. It's my order," Hai shoutes amid torrential rains and gusty winds of more than 130km per hour.
Using his long years of experience as a seaman, Hai bravely and skillfully drove his ship amid huge waves to rescue the fishermen, who had fallen into the sea and were screaming and flailing their arms to stay afloat.
After more than an hour spent struggling against the storm, Hai rescued each of the fishermen.
Hai recalls at the time that before such an emergency took place, he told himself that he should immediately act to rescue fishermen.
"The most important thing for me is to rescue people. An army man never abandons friends facing misfortune," he explains.
Phuoc says he and his rescued fishermen will never forget Hai's bravery and kind heart.
"We would have all died if Hai did not make the right decision and have the determination to rescue us," he adds.
Hai also recalls receiving information about the ship of his neighbour, Vo Phan, which broke down while he was fishing at Bach Long Vi seas.
Hai ordered his fishermen to come to the assistance of Phan. After travelling 200km for more than a day, Hai intercepted Phan's ship and brought it safely to Cua Lach seas off central Thanh Hoa Province.
Phan was quite moved by Hai's act of heroism and offered to pay him for losses, but Hai refused.
"I'm happy to help you because we are fellow fishermen. Today I helped you, but maybe tomorrow, when I meet an accident, you'll help me," Hai tells Phan.
Hai has since been recognised as one of Quang Ngai Province's most outstanding fishermen.
He joined the army in 1974 and returned from active duty in 1981. Hai was one of the first veteran members of the Nghia An Village Veterans Association.
At that time, Hai was very poor and thought no girl would marry him. Fortunately, a girl in his village loved him for his trustworthy sentiments and for actively helping fellow villagers facing difficulties.
Hai was later assigned to head the An Nghia co-operative, but his monthly salary was not enough to feed his family.
After managing the co-operative for two tenures, he found it to be ineffective. He asked local authorities to dissolve it and to accept his resignation. "I have to find a job to feed my family," Hai says.
After spending months in deep thought, he decided to borrow money from relatives and friends to build a 430CV ship for offshore fishing off the islands of Truong Sa and Hoang Sa.
"Our family has five generations of fishermen. The sea has given us a means of subsistence. Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands are part of my body, so I could not give up fishing," explains Hai.
His experiences at sea and his skills as a fisherman have helped him build a spacious home and save enough money to lend to those in need.
This year, he built two more 430CV ships, bringing to four the total number of ships in his fleet, which employed more than 40 workers. He has since delegated the management of these ships to his eldest son and relatives.
"I always encourage them to try fishing at Truong Sa and Hoang Sa seas. Fishing there enabled me and my family to raise our standard of living," Hai reveals.
Apart from being ready to help people in difficult or dangerous situations, Hai contributes more than VND10 million to the fund for the poor in his village every year.
He has also registered with local authorities for the construction of an iron-hulled ship that will transport ice, fuel and food to other ships.
His actions have paid off. The Viet Nam Veterans Association gave him a certificate of recognition for his efforts and contributions to the community.
Tran Xuan Men, head of the Economic Department of the Quang Ngai Veterans Association, says: "The association lauds Hai for overcoming difficulties to become rich. But we admire him most for his kind-hearted efforts to help poor people learn how to earn a stable income from fishing." — VNS