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500 hours afloat with fishermen: Part 7

Children who grow with the waves

09:28 | 03/10/2020

On fishing boats floating in the waters of Hoang Sa Archipelagoes, there have been a number of teenage boys just in their 20s, however, gaining years of sailing experience. They are regarded as “the brairds of the ocean” who would follow the steps of their elders.

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Sleeping on board despite having no departure schedules

Our vessel was sided by vessel QB91784, in which there were 23 fishermen divided into two groups. While a group of people was rushing to sell fishes off the bow, another group still devoted themselves to cooking and preparing breakfast for all seafarers. I was intended to walk to the back of the vessel to see how the ordnance took place, however, I suddenly stopped for a while as the people raised up their faces, they looked so young. When I was about to take a photo shoot, they ran away or tried desperately to dodge the camera because they were afraid of being captured.

It took me a long time to have a draw Nguyen Thanh Loi, 17 into a chat. Loi had two years sailing off Hoang Sa waters. He went with his siblings and uncles and initially took charge of cooking, assisting to clean the vessel, arrange fish net onboard. Then Loi was allowed to take on some works off the bow including pull fishnet.

“I was 15 years old and had the very first trip. I was bothered by the wave and just lay still for some days and wished to have my mom beside and encourage me. However, I was used to sailing and was fearless despite how strong the wave was. Now, I am very pleased with how life is going, working at night, and taking rest when the sun rises. I just afraid of the silence when the vessel just floating on the ocean for months. I miss my mom and siblings and usually met them in my dream.”, Loi shared.

children who grow with the waves
Vessels docked after a long sea voyage. Photo: ANTD.

Duc, 17, is one of the seafarer in the vessel, who even did not know his family name and parent. He is the inability to read or write. In some talks between fishermen in the vessel, I acknowledged Duc’s sad story. Over 10 years ago, Duc had wandered around some fish ports in Hai Linh commune (Quang Ninh District, Quang Binh province), just gleaned some fishes or begged for foods. He was watched and taken care of day by day by some people living along the coast although they did not have much.

As an orphan, he asked to join the fishing group when he was just 13 and played as a fishing assistant worker on board, ranking 5/10 points. According to the regulation on the vessel, fishermen’s work was evaluated according to the marking scheme. The captain and other fishermen working with the net off the bow own the highest point of 20. Now Duc gains 17/20 points. He was praised as an agile and effective member of the ship. He finally shared his story with me after a long time of chatting. “I have no home, no family. Without sailing, I am sure to starve to death.”

Normally, Duc stays and live in the fishing boat if he has no sailing schedule as he does not have a home to return. He can save some money thanks to some years of working and wishes to get married to build up a family. Until then, he still considers the fishing boat his home, the sea his mother now and lives happily with other seafarers year by year.

During my trip onboard to explore the sea market in Hoang Sa, I met dozens of teenagers who were sixteen or seventeen years old, who had been at this hot fishing ground for many years and I likened them to "the brairds of the ocean.

Father and son, side by side sail off the coast

On the ships day and night netting fish at Hoang Sa fishing ground, most of them are cousins or relatives of the same village or the same neighborhood. In many cases, both father and son join in a fishing boat. Pham Van Quy, 47, resides in Quang Ninh district, Quang Binh province, has 2 children, a daughter, and a son. His only son, Pham Van Cuong, 16, has also been on a boat for half a year and is still working onboard with his brothers and sisters.

children who grow with the waves
Young fishermen, who are heading out to the sea to protect their fishing grounds.

Cuong was sent to the beach by his father to follow the family’s job. Although he was not too good at studying, he worked very hard onboard. Right on the first trip, Cuong was not seasick, he completed his tasks quickly and was closely accompanied by his father so that he could make progress in his work. He was given 5 points at first but now he can acquire 8 points. For each return trip, the father and son get more than VND10 million (US$ 433). For the living standard in Vietnamese rural areas, the sum of money is enough to support his family including his sister’s university tuition fees in Ho Chi Minh City.

In another story, Pham Mai, 43, lives in Quang Binh also took his children onboard, he boasted: "Currently, I have 3 sons who follow my work as a seafarer, it is fortunate that I can teach my offsprings on their tasks".

During the trip to the sea, I can see the tolerance, and only the sea bed can accommodate such circumstances, lives, and fate.

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Translated by Lyan Vu