|Territorial markers: Despite many difficulties, the Vietnamese fishing boats still go offshore, and in doing so, help protect the country's sovereignty.
by Anh Thu and Trung Hieu
More than three decades after working at sea, fisherman Nguyen Quoc Chinh is familiar with each island and navigates the Hoang Sa (Paracels) waters as easily as people might locate houses on the mainland.
Chinh, 62, is an experienced fisherman, who is enthusiastic and responsible for creating many fisheries jobs and protecting the homeland's sea and islands.
"Earlier, fishermen used to work at sea only with small and simple fishing boats, during which time they faced numerous difficulties. But no one in my village shall leave the sea. The waters of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratlys) are tied to each fisherman's life and farmers here are so attached to their fields and gardens," Chinh said.
Looking far into the sea, the old fisherman recalled: "While fishing in the Paracels waters in 1989, my vessel was engulfed by a storm. Our 20 crew members had to hold on tightly to each other or cling to any objects that might be floating, waiting for any passing ships to rescue us. Luckily, we were rescued by a trawler from the central province of Quang Ngai. But then that ship also ran out of fuel and started free floating. The 40 men on board came close to dying and had to drink seawater and eat seaweed to survive."
"We floated desperately for 23 days, and were exhausted, but then we came across a fishing vessel carrying Ly Son Island fishermen, who gave us food and fuel to reach the shore."
After returning to the mainland, Chinh borrowed money from his neighbours, sold some of his assets and used the money to build a new boat and continued fishing.
During his seafaring life, Chinh was stranded in the Hoang Sa seas thrice after his ships were sunk by gigantic waves.
Vietnamese fishermen working in Hoang Sa have also faced risks like Chinh as their vessels have sometimes been seized illegally by Chinese forces and held for ransom. Each time that happened, Chinh and other fishermen remained unanimous and resolutely refused to pay any ransom, after which the Chinese released them.
Despite his advanced age, Chinh still stays in touch with the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa waters through the fishermen currently working there and through the Icom communication equipment.
When the An Hai Fisheries Association was founded, Chinh was honoured and elected by the other fishermen as Vice Chairman and then Chairman of the association, which includes 58 vessels and some 700 fishermen, who are in the traditional fishing areas of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
Regardless of day or night, Chinh is present on duty in the communication room of the association to encourage fishermen who are at sea. He listens to the latest weather forecast to warn them if there is a need to find shelter; and in case any boats are in distress, he calls for other boats to rush to their rescue.
Since the establishment of the association, scores of fishing vessels from Quang Ngai and other provinces have been successfully rescued by the association members.
Although he gets no remuneration, Chinh is happy. After 30 years at sea, the old Chinh also acts as a bridge between the fishermen.
"The most precious thing in my life is the pride for my years of working in the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa waters," he said.
Now the old fisherman uses his most valuable asset – his experience – to help younger fishermen in Ly Son succeed in their careers.
"I am just afraid that at some point I might not remain healthy enough to work for the fishermen."
"My desire is not just to unite the members of the association, but to unite the fishermen from 28 coastal provinces as one family. Once that happens, there will be mutual support and help for each other when anyone faces risks. Fishing areas can also be shared for developing the marine economy in a sustainable manner. At the same time, we are educating the next generations that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa are the flesh and blood of Viet Nam so we must protect our sovereignty over them," he said.
|Constant vigilance: Nguyen Quoc Chinh is always on duty to contact and monitor fishing boats on offshore trips. — VNS Photos Anh Thu
The residents of the Ly Son Island recently welcomed the news that Chinh has been elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour.
Chinh is happy, but a little anxious about taking over his new post.
He said: "Anyone feels happy to be trusted, and this is a great honour for me, but this also places a heavy responsibility on my shoulders. I must do something to not disappoint the people. Millions of workers and public employees nationwide monitor our activities. I will continue with my work as Chairman of the An Hai Fisheries Association and urge Ly Son fishermen to continue to participate in the association."
"Also, we are trying innovative models to catch fish effectively and safely so that the fishermen can get rich from the sea. In the long term, we, along with the leaders of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour will research and propose to the Party and State, certain policies for fishermen, such as extending loans at preferential interest rates and supplying modern equipment to motivate fishermen to explore the sea further."
Chinh stops for a moment to consider something, but a moment later he continues: "I think it will be impossible to erect border markers on the sea. However, the fishermen's boats, with national flags flying on them will act as a "living landmark" and continue to assert that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Viet Nam." — VNS