Sheltering fishermen an int'l obligation, says navy commander

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Vietnam asks that all its fishermen who enter foreign or disputed waters unintentionally or to seek shelter be treated humanely in reciprocation for what the country has done for its neighbors, the top navy officer said.

Vice Admiral Nguyen Van Hien, Commander of the Vietnamese People’s Navy, said China’s brutal mistreatment of Vietnamese fishermen seeking shelter from Typhoon Ketsana in September was in direct opposition to this spirit of cooperation.

The sailors said they had been attacked and robbed by Chinese forces when they sought refuge from the storm in the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.

“It is an international obligation to shelter others during natural disasters like storms,” said Hien while answering questions from reporters on the sidelines of the ongoing National Assembly session in Hanoi late last week.

Vice Admiral Nguyen Van Hien, Commander of the Vietnamese People’s Navy

“We have ordered Chinese fishing boats to keep away from the Truong Sa Archipelago, but we have also allowed them to dock there whenever there were storms, and we’ve even rescued them in accidents and have supplied them with food and medicine.”

Hien said he had also met with Indonesian navy commanders and officials to ask that they not mistreat fishermen, even if they issued fines against violations of sea sovereignty.

He said his Indonesian counterpart had promised to forward his message to the Indonesian government and parliament.

“We have helped save many fishermen from other countries in the region,” he said.

In the most recent case on Nov. 3, Da Nang City border guards and the Da Nang Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Center (MRCC) rescued all 12 foreign sailors aboard the Chinese Lusky Dragon vessel after it sank off the coast of the central city’s Ngu Hanh Son District the same day.

The sailors, including eight Chinese and four Myanmarese, were taken to the nearest medical center for emergency aid. The ship was carrying 2,300 tons of steel from China to Ho Chi Minh City and the sailors left the sinking vessel after a fire broke out in the engine room during tropical storm Mirinae.

Hien said local fishermen should not be afraid to fish in Vietnamese seas, which are within 200 nautical miles off the mainland.

However, he advised fishermen to stay at least three nautical miles away from military bases.

“The Hoang Sa Archipelago is ours but fishermen should not come near these islands because they are temporarily occupied by China. But they can take shelter from storms there,” he said.

Hien said Vietnamese paramilitary sea forces would need to be established and even armed in some cases.

He also said Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries would never accept China’s claim of over 80 percent of the East Sea, adding that Vietnam accepted bilateral and multilateral negotiations as the only means to solve the East Sea problem.

When asked what the navy’s response would be to any conflicts at sea, he said Vietnamese forces would be determined to protect the sovereignty of the Vietnam seas, even if it had to make sacrifices in a fight.

Reported by Kap Thanh Long

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