DEDICATED: Diệp is pictured with her handwritten notes on the weather conditions. Photo kenhthoitiet.vn
By Phương Hà
Over the past five years, thousands of fishing boats in central Việt Nam have returned to shore safe and sound thanks to weather updates broadcast live from a small radio station.
Lương Thị Hồng Lan, aka Út Diệp, a local in Mỹ Tân Village, Bình Sơn District in the central province of Quảng Ngãi, is the founder and sole operator of the special radio station.
“Attention please! The weather today is good, the wind is calm with nothing unusual to report on or offshore.” This is a typical weather forecast broadcast by Diệp via ICom.
“It's calm today, and the fishermen will be listening because now is about the time they head out to catch squid,” she said.
But the sea is not normally calm and peaceful like this. Unpredictable and dangerous weather conditions motivate the 44-year-old woman to team up with ICom in order to ensure her husband’s safety while he's out at sea.
Diệp’s husband, Bùi Đức Thanh, is a boat owner who trades in squid in Bình Chánh Commune, where he has been a fisherman for over 20 years.
Five years ago, the couple borrowed more than VNĐ3 billion (US$129,000) from the bank to build a VNĐ5.4-billion boat to expand their existing business.
After that, she started to think of ways to help her husband. She decided to travel to HCM City to learn about weather forecasting, how to predict the cold air, rain, wind direction, storms or thunderstorms from a relative working in meteorology.
She then started looking at weather forecasting pages from Việt Nam, Japan, Hong Kong and the US, based on which she could draw her own weather predictions for up to 14 days.
“My father used to be a teacher. I was a good student from grade one to nine. I had to drop out of school due to my family’s financial difficulties,” she recalled.
Returning home, Diệp spent VNĐ9 million ($386) to buy a laptop and another VNĐ22 million ($945) to buy an ICom.
As her house is located at the end of the village where the internet cable is out of reach, she has to use DCom 3G and pay for a monthly card to regularly access the forecasting pages. Diệp has been an operator since then.
At first, she only called her husband and about five ships from the commune’s fishing fleet via ICom.
Gradually, other fishermen tuned into her broadcasting. Seeing other ships avoiding strong winds and storms after following her broadcasts, they asked for her phone number as well.
“When they return, they ask me when it will be safe to sail again. When I started forecasting the weather correctly, they kept calling me for updates,” she recalled.
Diệp’s channel has become familiar with fishermen who go deep-sea fishing off Quảng Ngãi Province, like a KOL on social networks. Fishermen from the vicinity who sell fish at Sa Kỳ Habour in Bình Châu Commune have also heard about her channel.
The scale of her listeners has expanded from the central province of Khánh Hòa to the northern province of Hải Phòng. Their names, ships and phone numbers are carefully recorded in her notebooks.
According to fisherman Nguyễn Văn Dũng, the information broadcast on Diệp’s channel three to five times a day helps offshore-fishing boats to stay up to date on the weather and send messages to shore.
“We will always remember and be grateful to her from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.
DOCKED: Thanks to weather forecasts broadcast on Diệp's channel, many fishing boats in Quảng Ngãi Province return to shore safe and sound. VNA/VNS Photo
Nguyễn Văn Sinh, a boat owner from Nghĩa An Commune, remembers a call from Diệp a few months ago. She informed him that the conditions were perfect for a big school of fish before he reached the shore.
“He gave me a tuna that was so big it did not fit in my refrigerator,” Diệp said, smiling.
By the end of last year, Diệp’s husband’s boat and five others were dangerously close to Storm Nakri. After reviewing the forecast, she told her husband and the other boats to flee to the Philippines to avoid the storm before reporting to authorities in Quảng Ngãi Province.
Over 131 fishermen later receive support from Vietnamese and local authorities in the Philippines for food and fuel to sail back to Việt Nam.
In the first two years, she contacted up to 5,000 fishermen via ICom and received hundreds of calls per day.
According to Nguyễn Thành Tín, vice chairman of Bình Chánh Commune’s People’s Committee, the commune now has 2,500 fishermen with 119 boats, 70 of which specialise in catching squid.
The commune received investment from the State budget to build two ICom stations, offering support and rescue to local fishermen, which were managed by the local Fishing Trade Union. However, the equipment broke down many times so the stations stopped operating.
“The commune highly appreciates how Diệp uses her family’s ICom to inform her husband and other boats about the weather conditions at sea. It is not easy to find an individual who is so dedicated to the safety and welfare of the community,” he said.
Besides working as an operator without a salary, Diệp also takes advantage of her free time to sew clothes to earn some cash, but she never forgets her broadcasting schedule.
“7:30am, 2:30pm and 7:30pm is when I call my husband and whoever else is out there in need of help,” she said. VNS