Shipbuilding short of successors
Decree 67 of the Government opens up great opportunities for fishermen. Many ships with thousands of horsepower reaching out to sea show a great need for new fishing ships in the fishing community.
Mr. Pham Ba Hieu (Thuan An Ward, Hue City)’s memories of shipbuilding remain intact. Just over half a decade ago, Mr. Hieu's shipyard beside Hoa Duan Dam was crowded with people entering and leaving.
To be put up the shipbuilding frame, a ship needs to be scheduled. Mr. Hieu also went hither and thither to import raw materials to respond to the orders. Sometimes, he had nearly one hundred workers for shipbuilding.
Now, when talking about shipbuilding, Mr. Hieu waved his hand with gloomy eyes. He said even though he said nothing, everyone knew it when looking at the dreary scene at the shipyards. Mr. Hieu himself also retired from the job which brought his family wealth.
“Formerly, the shipyard sometimes had to refuse orders, but now, orders are scarce. And even if there is an order, it is difficult to meet the demand for raw materials and labor," said Mr. Hieu.
Fisherman Nguyen An (Thuan An Ward) said that the demand for building new fishing ships among the people remains, but against before, this number is small. “To own a fishing ship, a fisherman must have a large capital. Decree 67 has helped us to solve this problem. Each ship has a lifespan of decades, so the demand for new shipbuilding is saturated. Moreover, many owners that built ships under Decree 67 had difficulty repaying their debts. The exploitation and purchase at sea is not as favorable as before, so everyone is afraid to build new fishing ships," said Mr. An.
As long as fishermen reach out to sea, shipbuilding survives
Aside from the large shipyards in Thuan An, others in Phu Loc are even more tragic. The shipbuilding frame yards and shipyards are quiet; the job is as if to drift with the current; shipbuilding workers are also arbitrarily evacuated. The rotten wood slats are dotted at the place where just a few years ago was bustling, getting everyone to regret the bygone days.
As a longtime shipbuilder, Mr. Ngo Van Bay (Phu Loc) now "puts aside his sword". Leaving the shipbuilding frame yard is seen as the fate by him. Starting from the boat-building job handed down by his forefathers, he taught himself to become a professional shipbuilder.
30 years of being friends with the saw blade and timbers was enough to help him feel the harshness of the job. Mr. Bay now comforts himself by shifting to carpentry to ease his nostalgia for the smell of timbers.
“Any job has ups and downs. A worker like me has to accept it because that's the reality of life. The job sinks into oblivion, but humans have to live. Before waiting for the revival, shipbuilders have to change the job to find a livelihood," said Mr. Bay.
In the open sea, a fishing boat is tilting on the water. On the shore, the "architects" who created the work also encounter difficulties. Does anyone remember that, besides the fixed shipyards, Hue has an army of mobile shipbuilders, penetrating into the "market" throughout the country?
In the province, shipbuilding is saturated and working far away now encounters many obstacles. The COVID-19 pandemic does not allow them to move freely from one place to another. However, although the shipbuilding comes to a dead end, the love for job must be kept. Only when the fishing ships stop floating with the big waves will the job reach an impasse, and that will never happen in the future.
Building new fishing ships is now scarce, but there remains the need for converting and upgrading fishing ships after a sea season. “Apart from new building contracts, the shipbuilding also relies on income to repair and upgrade fishermen’s fishing ships," said Mr. Hieu.
Preparation for the winter break is also the time when fishing ships prepare to be put up the frame to repair. By the fishermen's calculations, each year they have to spend hundreds of millions of dong upgrading ships after the fishing season. Nowadays, to modernize fishing ships is a must.
Compared with other coastal provinces and cities, the fishing infrastructure in general and the perfection of equipment and technology on each ship in the provincial localities are somewhat limited.Therefore, the trend of upgrading fishing ships will help shipbuilders have an extra direction to keep their job.
Mr. Bay said gone are the days when shipbuilders came out of a cramped ship hold, but modernizing fishing boats also means that workers' skill must be improved.
"Renewing" fishing ships will be the key direction of the current shipyards, but the workers’ skill must be improved, not only to meet the minimum needs of fishermen but also to keep pace with the current trend,” shared Mr. Bay.
Shipbuilding now no longer depends on the workers’ skill and experience. A lot of modern equipment supports and helps workers reduce their hardship, but the traditional techniques preserved for generations cannot be ignored.When the market is volatile, it is very difficult to keep the job.
Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Cuong (Loc Tri Commune, Phu Loc) is still practicing. Instead of shaping inanimate wooden slats into a satisfactory work, now he takes great pains to repair and restore ships after many years of "riding" waves. Repairing a ship sounds simple, but for the ship to look like the original and to be more modern is indescribable in words.
“Against ten years ago, the present fishing ships are much more modern. Shipbuilders need to update their knowledge in a timely manner. The knowledge comes from the fishermen who directly control the ship. The number of newly-built ships in the province is now very low, but the need for repair remains great, so I think shipbuilding will not sink into oblivion. The problem is whether the quintessence of the job will be preserved in the future or not. The successors are gradually declining," said Mr. Cuong.
Aside from shipbuilding, the COVID-19 has exerted an impact on most sectors and jobs. In addition to the effort to keep the job, changing the state to adapt is a must. Shipbuilders are no exception. The provincial market has its ups and downs, but if it can connect with the market in other provinces, shipbuilders will have more directions. Anyway, the waves keep crashing, and the ships still reach out to sea.
Story and photos: Quynh Vien