Despite growing safety concerns, fishermen operating in the area refuse to abandon their livelihood and retreat from Vietnam’s valid and legal claim of authority over the archipelago and its surrounding seas.
Local fishing boat captains hope that operating in cooperation with other Vietnamese fishermen will protect both their crews and equipment from assaults similar to the dozens of Chinese attacks that have been reported over the last few years.
Nguyen Van Phu, captain and owner of fishing ship QNg 90657 from the central province of Quang Ngai, reported that four instances of harassment from Chinese vessels during a recent weeklong journey forced his crew to limit their fishing operations to only two nights over the course of their seven days at sea.
According to the captain, he spent most of the time steering his boat away from Chinese perpetrators.
“We leant quickly to hide from the vessels after spotting them from a distance. We wouldn’t be able to escape,” Phu said.
Phu still considers himself lucky, noting that in June last year his boat was assaulted by four Chinese ships while operating in the maritime area.
The attackers stole Phu’s catch and destroyed his fishing equipment, causing VND750 million (US$33,637) in total damages.
According to Nguyen Chi Thanh, another local fisher, Chinese vessels often head into Vietnam’s waters between May and September each year, the primary fishing season for Vietnamese fishermen.
Despite repeated encounters with the Chinese, many ending in harassment and robbery, Thanh remains persistent in carrying out his operations at sea.
The fisher recalled an incident last year when his boat was rammed and had its property plundered by two Chinese vessels.
“I’ve encountered them up to 20 times since the beginning of this year but was able to escape before they could approach us,” Thanh said.
Vo Van Luu, 50, whose boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel on July 9 near Hoang Sa, expressed his resentment, asserting that he would sue the culprits and demand compensation.
“I have fallen victim to such violence every year for the past three years. They often form a fleet of two vessels and a speedboat to pursue Vietnamese targets,” Luu stated.
Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in Vietnam’s waters are often accompanied by a coast guard vessel, said Vo Sy Toan, a 55-year-old fisherman from Quang Ngai.
“They usually anchor five to seven nautical miles away from fishing ships to offer protection when necessary,” Toan elaborated.