Life Life

28/01/2019 - 08:04

Over thousands of waves

Different from the peaceful scene of ships sailing out of the seaport is the bustling fishing scene of "Ship 67" and the special on-sea ‘market’ of logistics ships. Only through experiencing a boat trip with the fishermen could one truly understand the hardships of persisting with the sea and protecting the sea...

Exciting "market" on the East Sea

Brotherhood on the sea

On the waters of Thuan An, Phu Thuan (Phu Vang) on a beautiful sunny day, the fishermen sailed out to the sea. At fishing ports and wharves, fishermen were busy preparing fishing equipment and supplies for a long voyage. When I asked to come along, fisherman Tran Van Chien (An Duong, Phu Thuan) said: "Do you get seasick? Brace yourself up if you vomit green and yellow bile!”. The quick conversation between me and Chien had just ended when the boatmen from beneath the deck urged Mr. Chien to push off.

Mr. Chien's trip was carefully prepared: 6,000 liters of petrol, 500 ice blocks, 10,000 liters of fresh water and food, instant noodles, necessities and supplies for the journey to the Tonkin Gulf fishing grounds. The "Ship 67", numbered TTH- 99999-TS with the capacity of 822CV, is the "career property" of Mr. Chien's family, which they had to save up for their whole lives.

Mr. Chien has had an arduous sea-clinging life in order to have this strong iron ship. “The ship is worth nearly 18.5 billion VND. Thanks to the support of the local government, I was able to get access to bank loans with preferential interest rates. The ship was also paid for with the money our family has saved from seafaring for decades. Since the first voyage to sea in 2016 to now, my ship and two iron ships of fishermen Nguyen Hoi, Tran Dung (Thuan An) have been successful with 3 mackerel seasons which worth nearly 1 billion VND. Thus, I was able to pay off some debts and invest more in fishing equipment”, Mr. Chien said as he headed towards the bow, watching for the weather.

After more than half a day floating at sea, Mr. Chien's ship finally came to the Tonkin Gulf fishing grounds. On arrival, after a telephone conversation with fisherman Nguyen Hoi - an iron ship owner who found a fishing ground with a lot of mackerel, Captain Tran Van Chien adjusted the direction of the ship. He said: “Going to the ocean without workmates or without collaboration is useless. Here, our workmates are all as close as brothers.”

Arriving at the place, eleven of his boatmen embarked immediately on the release of fishing nets. The net was dropped at 3:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m.; then the net was collected by a winch. Each net unit, 50m high and 17km long, with the support of the winch, was gradually dropped to the sea.

On the first sea voyage after the storm, Mr. Chien's ship caught a ton of mackerel and several hundred kilograms of other fish. To save time, as the crew members collected nets and picked the fish, Mr. Chien immediately made contacts with logistics ships to negotiate prices.

Nearby, "Ship 67" of fisherman Tran Hoi also “hit jackpot” when each kilogram of collected fish was priced at VND 300,000. "Every long trip costs about 100 million. After selling fish to the logistic ship, re-account 50% to the boatmen and 50% to the ship owners; on average, ship owners could earn around VND 100 million/trip,” Mr. Hoi smiled.

On-waves market

The ships of Thuan An and Phu Thuan fishermen still quietly sail on the open sea. Every month, the market ‘meets’ for about 10 to15 sessions depending on the amount of fish the vessels catch as well as from the sailing of the logistics service fleet. The market is formed with ships close together, bright lights shining overhead.

At night, the markets on the sea seemed like a miniature universe between the countless waves. After catching the fish, the net fishing boats immediately contacted the inland logistics ships to sell fish at sea. The boats using surrounding-nets often catch fish of lower economic value compared to those using flaring-nets, but in return, fishermen can sell and collect "fresh money" right at the sea market.

Surrounding-net fishing is a career of originality with ships a few nautical miles apart, lighting the lights together to attract fish. Each vessel is equipped with a fish detecting machine with a net set worth about 3 billion VND. About 3 hours after placing the net, the ship of fisherman Tran Dan (Hai Binh, Thuan An) began collecting nets.

Mr. Dan shared: "This is the main fish season, so for every 20-day trip, the brothers in the union have to catch a hundred tons of fish (about VND 800 million) in order to make a profit. Although the prices of mackerel scad, silver pomfret, tuna, and squid sold at the "on-sea market" are about half of the land price (from 25 to100 thousand VND / kg), but in exchange, the fishermen can save travel costs and time. Fish is sold fresh, and necessities can be purchased right on the sea in order to continue the journey. So basically, the fishing ships are still profitable”.

 ‘Generous’ fishermen

"Being fishermen, working alone is ‘deadly’,” fisherman Tran Van Chien affirmed; as it is the conclusion he has drawn from decades of fishing. In the "triad" of iron ship 67 including Mr. Chien, Mr. Hoi, ..., the benefit is not only a big ship going far in the ocean but also a sharing of the fishing grounds and fish market.

Each sea voyage, these owners often contact each other by radio to inform the weather situation as well as share information on fishing grounds and inland news. "When I first started sailing in the “Iron ship 67”, once my ship caught 2 tons of mackerel, which was sold for 600 million. This was thanks to the other fishermen sharing the fishing grounds with me. On arrival at the fishing grounds, once we detect fish, we immediately contact each other. At that time, I hit the jackpot on the Tonkin Gulf fishing ground," Mr. Chien recalled.

The story that the Phu Vang fishermen still remember took place in September 2018, when Mr. Dien's ship was buying fish about 80 nautical miles from the Hoang Sa fishing ground. Because the ship just went out to sea for more than 2 days, only a small amount of fish was bought. Suddenly its helm was broken. Using the radio to communicate with the fishermen of Thuan An team, it appeared that these ships were only about 20 nautical miles away. The members of the team decided to send the ship of Mr. Duong Van Thong (local resident) to rescue Mr. Dien’s ship and towed it home.

For logistic vessels and fishing ships, sometimes in the context of hardship, every drop of fresh water and packages of instant noodles becomes the "fishermen gratitude". And, that sentiment has portrayed "history pages" on the long journey of many generations of fishermen clinging to the sea, continuing until today.

Story: Ha Nguyen

Photos: Thach Nhiên

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