By Hien Luong
Seven fishermen arrived home in central Vietnam Saturday exhausted and empty-handed after a harrowing ordeal with a group of armed pirates.
Captain Phan Quoc Hung, 35, pulled into Hon Ro Port in Nha Trang town, Khanh Hoa Province and immediately filed a report about a crew of foreign pirates that rammed and robbed his crew on December 2.
Hung said his crew set sail on November 10 to fish for tuna in the water around the Truong Sa Archipelago (Spratly islands) off the coast of Khanh Hoa Province.
Hung said his men set out among a flotilla of local boats and didn’t catch much. In the end, they decided to hang around the islands to continue fishing instead of heading back with the group.
While fishing around the islands their vessel was rammed by an unmarked boat. Armed men brandishing guns quickly rushed aboard and forced Hung and his crew onto their boat while they fleeced their refrigerated hold.
Hung said that after he and the others were let back onto their boat, they discovered that all their fish, fuel and equipment had been stolen.
According to the crew members, they lost around 1.2 tons of tuna, 250 kilograms of other fish, 170 kilograms of dried squid, 2,500 liters of diesel, three batteries, one GPS device, three electronic pumps, six cell phones and fishing equipment, all worth around VND470 million (US$22,000).
Crew member Vo Dinh Chuan, 30, said the crew of roughly ten attackers spoke a foreign language.
‚ÄúThey kept us in the hold of our ship for six hours without food or water.
‚ÄúNone of us dared to look up to see what was happening as they all had guns trained on us.‚Äù
Hung’s crew found themselves out of fuel in rough waters.
Fortunately, he managed to contact Vietnamese Naval officers stationed on Song Tu Tay Island, around 100 nautical miles away to request enough food and fuel to sail home.
Huynh Thi An, the boat’s owner, said the crew did not inform her on the day of the attack; she believes they were too panicked to remember to do so.
An said the loss will be huge for her and the fishermen themselves. ‚ÄúBut we’re lucky enough that they‚Äôre still alive and the boat wasn’t lost.‚Äù
Khanh Hoa border guards are investigating the incident.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, Somali and Nigerian pirate attacks fell during the first nine months this year, but attacks in Southeast Asian waters doubled amounting to 103.
The Vietnam Maritime Administration reported 18 pirate attacks in the area in October, including seven around the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, and three off the coast of Indonesia.
The pirates were armed with guns and knives in 15 cases.
Most of the time, the sailors were beaten and taken hostage.
Vietnamese crewman Tran Duc Dat was shot through the head when an unidentified group of pirates hijacked his asphalt tanker off the coast of Singapore on December 7.
A Singaporean rescue helicopter airlifted Dat to the nearest hospital that same morning, but he died soon after arriving.
The fifteen other crew members on the VP ASPHALT 2 returned to Hai Phong port safe and sound, according to Vietnam‚Äôs maritime officials.
Vietnamese authorities and Interpol are still investigating another attack that occurred off the coast of Singapore in October, when a crew of gun-toting pirates held a diesel tanker hostage for a week and made off with nearly 2,000 liters of diesel fuel the tanker picked up in Singapore.