41 fishermen cling to plastic bottles for 30 hours at sea

By Xuan Ngoc   September 9, 2019 | 01:55 pm GMT+7
41 fishermen cling to plastic bottles for 30 hours at sea
A crew member (C) from a sunken Vietnamese fishing ship is helped get aboard a fisheries surveillance ship in Canh Ranh, central Vietnam, September 8, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

A group of fishermen from the central province of Quang Nam cast adrift at sea clung to plastic bottles for 30 hours before being rescued.

On Sunday morning, the fishermen from a sunk squid-fishing vessel were brought to the Ba Ngoi Port in Cam Ranh, a coastal town near Nha Trang. They underwent health checks at a local medical center before being taken home to Nui Thanh District in Quang Nam, 566 kilometers to the north.

With gaunt faces, sunken eyes and a pronounced limp, Captain Tran Tan Vinh, 45, said his boat had gone offshore on August 20. Around 8 a.m. on September 2, he and 43 crew members were fishing when they got news that a tropical depression was approaching and could become a storm. They began seeking shelter immediately.

About 35 nautical miles east of the Thuyen Chai (Barque Canada) Reef in the Spratly Islands, strong winds overturned their boat, throwing everyone on board to the sea. Three crew members in a compartment below could not escape at that time and are still missing.

All rescue buoys, coracles and food sank along with the boat. "Luckily, plastic bottles floated up, and we clung to them in the hope that a boat passing by would find us," Vinh said.

As it rained heavily, elderly crew members shouted and asked everyone to huddle together, warning that they would die if they split up. Later, when the weather got better, they tried to dive and find the three missing crew members, but their efforts proved futile.

After it got dark, they lost track. In the middle of the night, violent waves threw the cans three to four meters high and everyone tried to hang on. "It was the most terrible time," Vinh recalled.

Tran Tan Vinh, captain of a fishing boat that was overturned at sea on September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Tran Tan Vinh, captain of a fishing boat that was overturned at sea on September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Hunger, thirst and cold exhausted the men, and some of them began to fall asleep. Others constantly woke them up, and encourage them to be calm and not lose hope. At this time, Vinh’s leg went numb from the wound he incurred as the ship sank, but he had to try to remain calm, because he was aware that "if the captain is discouraged, everyone will give up."

"Everyone was in panic, but we still clung to the belief that we would be saved as we had informed another ship that we were in distress via icom equipment," Vinh said.

After more than a day and night drifting at sea, the miracle happened, when a fishing boat from the nearby Quang Ngai Province found them. By 5:30 p.m. on September 3, everyone was transferred to a fisheries surveillance ship.

"Without the Quang Ngai boat, we don't know what our fate would have been," said Mai Van Minh, 64, the oldest member of the crew.

After more than 20 years at sea, during which he has experienced a lot of turbulence, Minh is still traumatized by the 30 hours spent on the edge of death. He is also sad that his three colleagues are still missing.

Mai Van Minh recalls the experience after their boat was sunk at sea, September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Mai Van Minh recalls the experience after their boat was sunk at sea, September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Another crew member, Huynh The Vu, 24, said that his wife gave birth to a girl a day before he boarded the ship. He had hesitated, but then decided to go out to sea with his friends in the hope of earning some money for the family.

"When I was exhausted, I told myself I had to try to get back to my wife and child," he said, adding that he planned to take some time off to forget about this trip.

Last Tuesday, tropical depression Kaijiki made landfall in central Vietnam with wind speeds of 40-50 kph, causing downpours of up to 530 mm, triggering severe flooding and landslides before weakening and moving towards the sea.

At least six people died and nine were missing as of Thursday as rains and flooding battered central Vietnam for three days.

 
 
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