China releases 14 Vietnamese fishermen, keeps boat

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Fourteen Vietnamese fishermen arrived home in the central province of Quang Ngai Wednesday after being detained by China for five days in a harrowing ordeal that saw much of their property, including their boat, stolen by their captors.

Bui Hong Van, chairman of Binh Chau Commune Fishery Association, said the fishermen told him that they were arrested on May 16 when fishing on two different boats in waters off Vietnam's Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.

According to Van, Chinese forces are using "new tricks" to attack Vietnamese fishermen in Hoang Sa.

Previously, Vietnamese fishermen were often held for ransom by the Chinese, but now they're more commonly arrested and released without ransom, and instead the Chinese are stealing their equipment, boats and even their catches, he said. 

Chinese helicopters have also been flying above Vietnamese fishermen in the area, terrorizing them a mere 20 meters above the water.

"Such actions are aimed to hit our economy and wear the fishermen down taking their fishing devices and scaring them so they do not dare to fish in Hoang Sa anymore," said Van.

In the meantime, Lieutenant-colonel Dang Quoc Tanh, chief of the Binh Hai Commune boarder guard post, said he had sent a team to meet the newly-released fishermen and document their story.

In an interview with Thanh Nien, Vo Minh Quan, 42, captain of one of the two detained ships, said he immediately ordered his boat to flee at the sight of the Chinese vessels that day.

But the Chinese ship that gave chase was too fast and easily caught up with Quan's boat and apprehended the vessel and its crew, he said.

While escorting the Vietnamese boat to Phu Lam Island -- part of Hoang Sa -- the Chinese ship detained another Vietnamese boat with seven fishermen onboard.

On May 21, the Chinese forces released the fishermen on Quan's boat, he said.

Nguyen Thanh Nhat, 29, who owned the released boat together with Quan and two other people, said that they lost more than VND400 million (US$19,200) in seafood and damaged devices.

Since the beginning of this year, the boat had made four fishing trips, and was arrested by Chinese forces twice, according to Nhat, who said that an attack in March led to losses of over VND100 million ($4,800).

Meanwhile, Tran Phuong, 57, who owns the other boat still in captivity, said he bought the boat in 2009 after saving for over ten years and borrowing money.

"Now that the Chinese have taken my boat, my family has lost everything, and we don't know what to do to earn a living and pay the debts," Phuong said.

According to Phuong's son, Tran The Anh, who was at helm of the boat when the attack happened, the crew had caught nearly three tons of fish estimated to be worth some VND200 million ($9,600).

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