Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vietnam Fishermen Determined To Cling to East Sea Despite China's Fishing Ban

Not abandoning the fishing ground regardless of the unilateral and illogical fishing ban of China (from 16 May to 16 August 2010) on the Hoang Sa sea waters belonging to Vietnam, fishermen from the central region bravely stand side by side together to hold on to the sea for their living and determined to keep the Vietnamese traditional fishing ground.

"What direction are you heading? Stay close to Danang then steers out: "Never before are fishermen updating information on radio frequencies regularly as they are, now. And in the context that China unilaterally and absurdly decides to close the sea, until now, the majority of fishermen from Quang Ngai Province still head to Hoang Sa direction.

According to the statistics of the Quang Ngai Border guards Command, to until today, there are 50 vessels with nearly 500 fishermen operating at the sea waters of Hoang Sa and 113 other vessels with 2,204 fishermen fishing in Truong Sa (Spratly) sea.

One of the localities that have the highest number of fishermen going to Hoang Sa is the Binh Chau Village (Binh Son District) with 24 vessels and 235 fishermen. The locality possesses two community radio stations at Chau Thuan and Dinh Tan communes. Information from Hoang Sa are updated every minute to the inland.

According to fishermen, to protect each other, they have to carry out watch while operating. This is the reason why all vessels operating in Hoang Sa waters are closely linked via radio to share information. When a black dot appears on the sea, immediately all Icom sets on the vessels would air the warning so the vessels can take appropriate actions.

Quang Ngai Province has 13 community watch outposts at coastal places plus the one of the Border guards. These watch outposts continuously monitor the operations of fishermen on the sea. At present, fishermen from Binh Son and Ly Son Districts often go in groups of three or four vessels together to support each other in their operations as well as in case of need, should they be captured by the Chinese.

Fishing Ground Restricted, Catches Diminished
It is still early dawn but the Tho Quang wharf (Son Tra -- Danang) is already busy with vessels unloading their catches. After a few days of rest, they will be refueled for the next seagoing trip. "We will hold to the sea" declares Tran Bay (from Duc Pho District, Quang Ngai), captain of the QNg 48759 TS vessel.

Almost 50-year-old, Bay already has 30 years of seafaring, mostly to the fishing ground at Hoang Sa. The hardships of a fisherman's life, from weather calamities to enraging storms, have not been able to break down the weathered man, but he cannot accept the fact that China has unreasonably put a ban of fishing in areas belonging to Vietnam's territorial waters and sovereignty and causes difficulties for thousands of fishing people in the central region.

Bay said: "Since the day the Chinese ban takes effect, we must move from 200 to 300 miles farther from Hoang Sa archipelago to operate. The banned area starts from coordinate 12ยบ north parallel to 113° east longitude covering an area from near Hainan Island to Nhatrang sea and this means they block our way to the sea. Meanwhile, during this season, fish were coming to coral reef areas near Hainan Island and Hoang Sa and if we could not fish here, the catches would be reduced dramatically."

Not being able to reach his traditional fishing ground near Hoang Sa archipelago, Bay's vessel returned to land incurring heavy losses. Having spent VND 60 million for two weeks at sea, he only caught a few tons of fish and with the price going down drastically, he did not get any profit. Sharing the same situation, Nguy Bon (Duc Pho, Quang Ngai), captain of vessel QNg 98948 TS pointing to the small catch and said: "Before, we can freely fish at area near the Hoang Sa archipelago about 10-20 miles without any problem. But since the last five years, our fishing ground has receded gradually. We fishermen now are passing the word that everywhere we go near Hoang Sa we would find Chinese navy which makes our work more and more difficult". Talking about his recent trip, he said that he has spent more than VND 60 million in expenses for 16 days at sea while his catch of mackerel only brought back more or less VND 20 million. The ship mates have to put up their own money to cover the balance.

The estimates of the management of the Tho Quang fish port and dock show that the numbers of vessels leaving port and the catch volume have diminished drastically in the last few days. On average, each day, only approximately 10 vessels leave the port for the sea and the volume of fish catch is more or less 100 tons. It was partly due to the fact that it is not the main catching season yet and partly because the Chinese fishing ban in the East Sea has affected Vietnamese fishing vessels.

In Danang City alone, many owners of fishing equipment have sold out their vessels as scrap to "go out of the business." Nguyen Van Ly, owner of a ship building and repairing facility in Nai Hien Dong ward, Son Tra, Danang City informed that his workshop has received five vessels that the fishermen have dismantled and sold as scrap. "These days, many others have offered their boats for sale, but I cannot accept as my place is too small to accommodate. The prices are so cheap but the fishermen still want to sell as they have encountered so much pressure on each sea going trip."

Determination of Fishermen Not To Be Stopped
While hurrying to bring his vessel to Sa Ky port for overhaul as he prepares for a new sea going trip after a long detainment by the Chinese at Phu Lam Island, Mai Phung Luu, owner of the QNg 66478 vessel (Ly Son, Quang Ngai) still grudges over the new of China's fishing ban. After his calculation, he would be going out to the sea in two weeks.

Luu said: "We fishermen are familiar with this type of ban. They can ban the sea groundlessly but they cannot ban the determination of fishermen folk. At Ly Son, if we do not go out to Hoang Sa what can we have for living when fishing near the coast only gives small catches. But more important is the fact that it is our (Vietnam's) sea, if we give up the sea now for fear of the ban, then it might be that our future descendents would not have any sea to earn a living."

In other fishing ban periods, Luu was captured twice, each time with a different boat. "The first time was on April 2005 when they seized my vessel QNg6426 with nine workers onboard and fined me RMB 70,000. The second time was on July 2005 with my new vessel QNg 6437 and 11 persons. They held people and increased the fine up to RMB 100,000. And with the recent events, to be frank with you, I almost went bankrupt. But I have to borrow money to keep on going out to the sea. If I stay home, I would have spent all my life and not able to pay back the debts" Luu confided.

Luu said: "When we talked to the fishermen with their vessels mooring at the Tho Quang dock site, they all told us that though the fishing activities are encountering a lot of difficulties from restricted fishing ground and reduced catches that sometimes are not enough to cover the expenses, they are determined to continue to go out fishing and defend the territorial waters. Bon, a fisherman said: "Whatever the difficulties may be, we will sail out to the sea soon as this is the undisputed traditional territorial waters of Vietnam."

Although still haunted by the last year illogical repression by Chinese navy vessel at the Hoang Sa waters of Vietnamese sovereignty, but Pham Le (from Duc Pho, Quang Ngai) captain of the QNg 94734TS and his shipmates still choose Hoang Sa as their next destination.

"In May 2009, we were operating at coordinates17°30 North and 110° East, about 300 miles from Hoang Sa, when the Chinese vessels started to attack us, confiscate all the fish, destroy the equipment and harass the shipmates causing us a heavy loss that time. The fishing ban on the East Sea this time is aimed at creating difficulties for our fishermen but we are determined to go out to the sea as an act to assert our sovereignty" said fisherman Pham Le from Quang Ngai.

More Than 1,000 Proposals, Petitions Sent to National Assembly
The Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front has recently forward to the National Assembly the "Comprehensive report of proposals and petitions from the constituents and people of the country". Before the 7th session of the Danang City (12th tenure), the Board of Chairmen of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the Standing Committee of the National Assembly have compiled 1,157 opinions and petitions of constituents and people sent to the National Assembly.

Particularly, people and constituents are very concerned about the fact that seizures by foreign vessels of our fishing vessels operating in Hoang Sa waters belonging to our national sovereignty are on the rise and affect the living and production of our fishermen. The constituents and people petition to the National Assembly and the government to implement effective measures to protect and support fishermen operating at sea to help settle their living conditions, develop the economy and contribute to the safeguarding of national sovereignty over territorial waters and islands of our fatherland.

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