More than two months ago they rescued the Filipino fishing crew near the Reed Bank, which belongs to Vietnam’s Spratly (Truong Sa) Archipelago in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. The Filipino crew claimed they were left to drown by a Chinese vessel after it rammed their vessel.
In the scorching weather, many traders carrying trailers gathered at a Tien Giang wharf owned by the family of Ngo Van Theng, owner of the fishing boat, to buy the catch from its latest trip lasting three months.
Heavy rains and rough seas had limited the catch to about 15 tons of fish, worth a total of about VND500 million ($21,500). After deducting expenses for petrol, oil and labor, the voyage did not earn any profit, said Theng.
Theng’s family has been in the seafaring business for more than 30 years and operates seven fishing boats. This was their second sailing of the year.
However, despite not making a profit, there was reason for the crew and the owner to be very happy. They had managed to save 22 crew members of a Filipino fishing boat from certain death without understanding a word of Tagalog or English.
The nine-member crew of a Tien Giang fishing boat, who rescued 22 Filipino peers in distress in June 2019, pose for a photo after arriving home on August 19, 2019. The captain, Nguyen Van Tam, is shirtless with a chain around his neck (first from right, second row). Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.
Recalling the life-saving exercise, Dinh Van Trung, 38, a member of the crew, said the Vietnamese fishing boat was anchored on June 10, and all the crew members were asleep when they were awakened by the voices of foreigners at around 1 a.m. They immediately alerted the captain, Nguyen Van Tam.
Using a flashlight, the captain made out two small boats without lights approaching his boat. Two men in the boats were waving their hands and speaking in a foreign language, requesting assistance.
At first, Tam feared they were pirates, but they were soaking wet and shivering. He guessed they’d had an accident and were seeking help.
“I thought that if they were robbers, they would have attacked suddenly, and not gesture as what they were doing. I have been fishing in the area for 10 years, and I knew most fishing boats there were from the Philippines. So, I decided to help,” Tam said.
Later, the two foreigners continued to gesture towards the Reed Bank around five sea miles away. On following their directions, the Vietnamese crew found 20 others wearing life jackets clinging on to plastic barrels and pieces of wood from a sunken boat.
They took the Filipino fishermen to their boat, fed them rice and instant noodles, and helped them get warm after they’d spent many hours of struggling in the sea for their lives. Around 12 hours later, the abandoned fishermen were picked up by another Filipino boat.
Trinh Cong Minh, Deputy Director of Tien Giang’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said local authorities would meet the Vietnamese fishermen and reward them.
Beijing confirmed in June that a Chinese vessel had indeed hit a Filipino fishing boat, but denied that it was a “hit and run” incident.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called it “a little maritime accident” and urged calm amid an outcry; however, many fishermen of the sunken Filipino boat expressed disappointment with his remark.
Meanwhile, speaking at the 29th Meeting of States Parties to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr thanked Vietnam for the Filipino fishing crew.
“We are eternally in debt to our strategic partner, Vietnam, for this act of mercy and decency,” he said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters close to Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. It has also put up artificial islands turning them into garrisons.
China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has since been illegally occupying them. In 2012 it established the so-called Sansha City with the archipelago’s Woody Island as its seat. The “city” also covers a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands that China seized by force in 1988 and the Scarborough Shoal.
Vietnam has repeatedly stated it has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, as well as legal rights over its waters in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
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