China claims release of fishermen who remain at large

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Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Chinese Fishing Patrol Force released nine Vietnamese fishermen on Monday (October 11), a month after they were seized in Vietnamese waters.

"We were informed that fishing boat QNg 66478TS and nine fishermen were released on the afternoon of October 11," Nguyen Phuong Nga, the Ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement issued Tuesday. "The boat and its crew are expected to be home tonight [October 12]."

On September 11, Captain Mai Phung Luu of Quang Ngai Province's Ly Son District and eight crew members were detained by a Chinese patrol while fishing in Vietnamese waters off the coast of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has demanded that China release the fishermen and their boat unconditionally. The demands were made through diplomatic channels at different levels in Hanoi and Beijing, the ministry said in a statement.

Colonel Bui Phu Phu, deputy head of the Quang Ngai Province's Border Security Force, said that China had demanded a ransom of 70,000 yuan (US$10,461) for the release.

Authorities in the province's Ly Son District said the detained fishermen had not yet returned home by late Wednesday.

Duong Thanh Vinh, a Ly Son fisherman who was detained by the Chinese in June 2009, said that they confiscated all of his fishing and communications equipment. During his release, he was left with just enough fuel to travel home.

"They only left me a compass," he told the Tuoi Tre newspaper. "A fisherman could easily get lost if he is not an experienced seaman."

Vinh added that he still owes VND250 million (about $12,800) due to losses incurred as a result of his detention.

Lieutenant General Tran Quang Khue, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Vietnamese People's Army, told the paper that he has instructed the Vietnamese Coast Guard to attempt to establish communication with the returning boat.

The National Steering Committee for Search and Rescue said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not provided them any additional information on the current communication capacities or general condition of Capt. Luu's boat.

Khue said it would be very dangerous to send fishing boat out into open water without any communications equipment.

As of press time, the fishermen's families were still awaiting their return in Quang Ngai.

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