Fishermen risk their lives in ramshackle stilt houses at sea

By Phuc Hung   May 9, 2016 | 01:14 am PT
Fishermen risk their lives in ramshackle stilt houses at sea
Fishermen have to live in stilt house on the sea to watch their fishing nets. Photo by Phuc Hung
For generations, fishermen in the southern province of Ca Mau have snared their catches using nets strung between wooden polls that are sunk into the seabed, but it is a precarious way of life and the unpredictable waters pose a constant deadly threat.

In the southern province of Ca Mau, many fishermen earn their livelihoods living in stilt houses out at sea about 20 kilometers from the mainland using nets to catch seafood.

The job does not require much investment but it does need experience and bravery. They can make tens of millions of dong each month from bumper catches.

The houses are built on wooden poles sunk into the seabed and can accommodate just two people. The only way to move between the stilt houses is via a rope ties the wooden poles together.

It easy for the big nets to get swamped or swept away so the fishermen have to live nearby to keep an eye on them. They carefully monitor the currents in order to determine when they should pull their nets, and rely on food delivered by the boats that come to buy their catches.

Life at sea can be a hungry one when bad weather prevents the boats from reaching them.

When natural disasters suddenly strike or ships lose their steering and crash into their houses, they are forced to put themselves at the mercy of the sea: the lucky survive, but others never come back.

Most fishermen live a long way from their homes and spend months or even years at sea.

“I have been doing this for over 20 years. My friends, the stilt houses and our routines have become a part of me. Life on land no longer suits me. I visit my family when I feel I'm missing them, but after a few days I long to return to the sea,” fisherman Tran Van Nhan said.


Fishmen have to walk on a rope to move between stilt houses. Photo by Phuc Hung

Fishermen often fall into the sea, especially inexperienced ones, so they always tie a large plastic container to them before they go to sleep.

“Last years, two of my friends fell into the sea. They hugged the containers to stay afloat and drifted for hours until they were rescued,” said Nguyen Van Bot.

A sharp knife is also an essential tool the fishermen always carry so they can cut the nets in they get entangled.

“There are people on land who monitor the weather forecast for us. When bad weather is forecast, they send boats to ferry us back to the mainland,” Bot said.

In 2009, a storm brought down nearly 60 stilt houses. Of the 67 people who fell into the sea, two never returned.

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