Eighteen Vietnamese fishermen were rescued from waters off the Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands Saturday nearly seven hours after their fishing vessel was rammed and sunk by a larger boat at around 2a.m.
"Everyone was sleeping, except me and a pilot, and suddenly there was a bang and water flowed in. The boat sank almost immediately. I only saw a boat, about four times as large as ours, sailing away," said captain Vo Xuan Tien.
The fishermen from the central province of Quang Ngai said they were on their way back from the Truong Sa Islands and in the sea near the southern coastal province of Binh Dinh when they were hit.
Tien said things happened so fast that he couldn't wake everyone up, and many of the sailors sleeping in the hold had to swim hard to the surface.
The boat crash broke the arm of a fisherman named Vo Xuan Hoi and cost him a lot of blood as he was sleeping in the middle of the boat, the captain said.
Five of their wicker boats sank with the boat and the fishermen had to cling to the only one left as well as other debris for about seven hours before being saved by a Binh Dinh fishing boat skippered by Doan Van Nam.
It is estimated that the fishermen lost VND1.5 billion (US$75,000) in the incident, including holothurians worth more than VND550 million they had caught and the boat nearly VND800 million.
"Never before had we caught so many holothurians as this time. Everyone was happy and had no idea that not only we would lose all that, but almost lose our lives," Tien said.
The Binh Dinh Department of Seafood Protection and Development has supported each sailor with an ex gratia payment of VND1 million.
Nguyen Du, chairman of An Hai Commune, Ly Son District where the sailors were from, said authorities must investigate the case "to force the attacker compensate our fishermen." Du was quoted by Saigon Giai Phong.
Of late, many Vietnamese fishing boats have been attacked and robbed in the East Sea waters over which Vietnam has proved its sovereignty. Most of these attacks reportedly involved Chinese boats.
Fishermen in the area have also reported seeing more boats with Chinese flags in the area recently.