All gestures, no words as Vietnamese fishermen saved 22 Filipinos

By Hoang Nam   June 18, 2019 | 02:04 am PT
All gestures, no words as Vietnamese fishermen saved 22 Filipinos
Filipino fishermen whose boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel reunite with their families at the port of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, June 14, 2019. Photo by ABS-CBN News/Jeff Canoy.
22 Filipinos left to drown by a Chinese vessel were saved by Vietnamese fishermen without understanding a word.

Awakened past midnight, the crew of a fishing boat from the Mekong Delta's Tien Giang Province understood from gestures that some strangers in the sea were seeking help, said Ngo Van Theng, owner of the TGTG-90983-TS fishing boat which made world headlines for rescuing 22 Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea, called the East Sea in Vietnam, on June 10.

Theng shared his contact with the boat's captain Nguyen Thanh Tam with VnExpress on Tuesday, recounting how a group of 10 Vietnamese fishermen had saved the Filipino fishing crew in distress near the Reed Bank, which belongs to Vietnam’s Spratly (Truong Sa) Archipelago.

At around 1 a.m. on June 10, the Vietnamese fishing boat was anchored and all of its crew fast asleep when they were awakened by the voices of foreigners. Using a flashlight, the captain made out two small boats without lights approaching his. Two men speaking a foreign language waved their hands, requesting help.

At first, the Vietnamese captain feared they were pirates but they were soaked wet and shivering. He guessed they'd had an accident and were seeking help.

Upon being towed to the Vietnamese boat, the two foreigners continued to gesture with their hands and point in the direction of Reed Bank.

Tam decided to help and headed out to the direction indicated by the men. Because it was dark, it took the Vietnamese boat around one hour to get to the scene, around five sea miles away.

The Vietnamese crew found a group of 20 Filipino fishermen wearing life jackets clinging on to plastic barrels and pieces of wood from a sunken boat. They were tired, hungry and cold.

The ten fishermen from Tien Giang took them to their boat and fed them rice and instant noodles, and helped them get warm after many hours of struggling in the sea for their lives.

The Filipino fishing crew intimated through gestures that their boat was rammed and sunk. After the collision, two of them sailed a small boat for more than four hours towards the light emanating from the Vietnamese boat to seek assistance.

At 5 a.m. the next day, the Tien Giang-based boat moved back to its original place to continue their fishing voyage. By then, the Filipino crew had borrowed a radio to inform a sister boat in the area about their plight. Around 2 p.m. the same day, another Filipino boat came to pick up the 22 fishermen.

"After working as a fisherman for many years, this is the first time that my family's ship has rescued another vessel, especially a foreign ship. I believe that anyone who heads out to sea would have done the same thing, not just us," Theng said.

Theng’s family has been in the seafaring career for more than 30 years and runs seven fishing boats. This was the second sailing of the year, Theng said, adding that the boat was scheduled to come back to shore after 40 days. These days, he hires people to go out to sea and is always at home.

In a statement last week, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denounced the Chinese vessel for ramming the Filipino boat and abandoning the fishermen on board.

Beijing confirmed last Saturday that a Chinese vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat, but denied claims 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 of fishermen in the sunken Filipino boat expressed disappointment with his remark.

Speaking at the 29th Meeting of States Parties to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr thanked Vietnam for rescuing 22 Filipino fishing crew left in the water.

"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) Islands in the waterway, 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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