Fishermen survive seven hours at sea clinging to styrofoam

By Pham Linh   October 20, 2023 | 01:29 am PT
Fishermen survive seven hours at sea clinging to styrofoam
Kieu Van Nghiep, captain of a sunken vessel from Binh Dinh, recalls the moment his ship sank. Photo by VnExpress/Van Tanh
When Kieu Van Nghiep tried to bring his dead brother back from the seas of the Paracel Islands, his ship sank, forcing the crew to hold on to bits of styrofoam for hour on end.

Two weeks prior, the ship helmed by Nghiep, 45, departed from a port in central Binh Dinh Province's Tam Quan Bac Ward, fishing for tuna off the Paracel Islands. One such trip typically lasts a month.

On Oct. 15, as the crew members were fishing, Kieu Van Thu, 53, Nghiep's brother, was electrocuted and fell to the floor. Despite everyone's best efforts, Thu did not make it.

Thu's body was later put into cold storage. Nghiep, as the captain, decided to bring the ship back to shore. But at around 4 a.m. on Oct. 17, when the ship was about 45 nautical miles (over 80 km) away from the Tam Quan estuary, strong winds and rough seas caused the ship to sink.

"The water impacted the cabin, causing glass to shatter. I had to climb through the windows to get out, not having enough time to get a life vest," Nghiep said.

As the rest of the crew jumped into the sea, they tried to stitch pieces of styrofoam together to make a makeshift raft.

"My brother died, so no one had been in the mood to eat or drink anything. Struggling with the waves made everyone hungry. Some cockroaches showed up, so I caught them to eat, trying to survive until a vessel came to rescue us," Nghiep said.

The ship sank completely over the course of an hour. The remaining three fishermen used ropes to tie themselves together, so ships would detect them more easily. They let the raft float freely, and the waves carried them dozens of nautical miles away from where they originally were. Thu's body was lost in the deep.

After spending hours at sea fighting hunger and the cold, the three couldn't help but shed tears, thinking about their families. Sometimes vessels came by, but they were too far away, and the waves drowned out their screams for help.

Three fishermen recall moments they tried to survive at sea during talk with a border guard official (R). Photo by Van Tanh

Three fishermen recall moments they tried to survive at sea during talk with a border guard official (R). Photo by Van Tanh

At 11 a.m. on Oct. 17, Nghiep saw a vessel passing-by when the rain stopped. He told his two fellow crew members to take off their red life vests, and wave them around for signaling. The people onboard saw the red objects moving strangely at sea, suspected there were stranded people, and rushed to help.

The crew members were fed with rice, noodles and kept warm, slowly regaining their strength. The captain of the rescuing ship, 53-year-old Truong Quang Duy, contacted a nearby fishing vessel to bring the fishermen back to shore and hand them over to border guards in Quang Ngai Province.

Nguyen Tung Duong, deputy head of a border guard station in the central province, said doctors went to examine the fishermen, and the three returned to their hometowns on Thursday.

"We were lucky we were rescued by our colleagues. I'm just sad that my brother's body is still out there," Nghiep said.

Over the past week, storms and tropical depressions triggered strong winds and rough seas off Vietnam's central coast, causing several vessels at sea to encounter problems.

On Oct. 16 and 17, two fishing vessels from Quang Nam, with 92 people on board, were sunk. Two people were confirmed dead, while 13 others remain missing.

go to top