China's seizure of Vietnamese boats illegal, inhumane act: official

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China's repeated seizure of Vietnamese boats and their fishermen crew as they try to make their living off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago is an inhumane and unacceptable act, a senior official has said.

Truong Ngoc Nhi, deputy chairman of Quang Ngai Province People's Committee, said China must compensate Vietnamese fishermen for the mental and physical agony they've suffered.

In a recent case, 12 fishermen on a boat from the central province of Quang Ngai were illegally detained on March 22 when they were fishing in the waters surrounding the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago over which Vietnam has proved its historic sovereignty.

VIETNAMESE BOATS IN QUANG NGAI SEIZED BY CHINA IN 2009

December 7-8: Three fishing boats and 43 fishermen from Ly Son Island were seized while fishing in Vietnamese waters. The fishermen were released on one of the three boats on December 9 and arrived home two days later.

August 1: One fishing boat with 13 fishermen onboard was seized while taking shelter from a storm in Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago. The fishermen were released and arrived home on August 14.

June 16-17: Three fishing boats and 37 fishermen were seized while fishing in Hoang Sa Archipelago. 25 fishermen were released soon after but 12 others were detained and released much later, arriving home on August 14.

April 26: A fishing boat with 14 fishermen onboard was intercepted by two Chinese boats that seized around three tons of fish before releasing them.

Nhi said the provincial administration on March 29 requested higher authorities to ask China to release the fishermen and their boat unconditionally.

On the same day, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said in a statement that China must probe the allegations that its people were holding 12 Vietnamese fishermen and their boat for ransom, and release them immediately and unconditionally.

The latest case has increased the number of fishing boats from Quang Ngai seized by China when fishing in Vietnam's waters to 33 and the number of fisherman arrested to 373.

Chinese authorities have asked for 70,000 yuan (US$10,264) in ransom for releasing the 12 fishermen, Nguyen Thi Buoi, wife of the boat's captain and owner, Tieu Viet La, told Thanh Nien.

La contacted his family by phone three days after they were apprehended, Buoi said, adding that this was the fourth time her family's boat has been attacked and seized by China over the past four years.

The first time was in 2006 when the boat was taking shelter from a storm on Phu Lam Island when a Chinese boat chased after them and seized all the fish and equipment worth VND150 million, she said.

The second time the boat was attacked with arms was in 2007, when six of the fishermen were injured before the boat was seized and they were released onto a Vietnamese boat fishing in the region.

Buoi said the third seizure has bankrupted the family after all the fish and equipment were seized by the Chinese boat. They had sold their boat to buy a cheaper one in order to have money to buy new equipment.

"I owe loans of VND700 million, how can I have money to pay ransom for the release of my husband and children," she said, adding that two of her children were among the fishermen on the seized boat.

FISHERMEN NEED PROTECTION

Authorities in Vietnam aim to better protect local fishermen from abduction with a new information center and more sea patrols by border guards.

An increase in the number of fishing boats seized by foreign countries in 2007-2009 has affected the lives of thousands of Vietnam's seafarers and has also strained the country's relations with its neighbors, prompting the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to issue the new plans at a meeting in Hanoi on March 30.

Bui Quoc Thanh, vice head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Consulate Department, said China had seized 18 fishing boats and 209 fishermen in 2009. All the fishermen were released, along with 14 boats, but the other four, worth VND8 billion in total, were still being detained.

"We don't receive official information when fishing boats are seized. Relevant agencies need to be more tightly connected," he said.

Nguyen Phuoc Loi, deputy commander of the Border Guard High Command, said local agencies should work together to patrol Vietnamese seas and support fishermen chased by foreign ships.

Vu Van Tam, deputy minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the ministry would ask the central government to set up a special department to connect relevant agencies to help them deal with boat seizure situations.

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