Impoverished fisherman heading back to sea

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A seasoned fisherman who went bankrupt after Chinese forces illegally seized his fishing boats last year has become the first to benefit from a credit program for Vietnamese fishermen in the East Sea.

Mai Phung Luu, 44, of Quang Ngai Province received a soft loan of VND300 million (US$14,500) from Dong A Bank in the launching ceremony of the program on Tuesday.

The program, initiated by Sai Gon Tiep Thi Newspaper, was established to provide low-interest loans for impoverished fishermen in the central provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh and Phu Yen.

Luu said he planned to buy a new boat and go offshore fishing again.

Last September, Luu and eight crewmembers, including his two sons and a son-in-law, were illegally detained by a Chinese patrol ship while fishing in Vietnamese waters off the coast of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands.

They were kept on an island in Hoang Sa before being released a month later.

It was the fourth time in six years that the Chinese detained him and his boat.

Since then, Luu and his sons have worked on other boats to make a living.

"Every time I see a fishing boat put itself to sea, I feel sad because I miss my days at sea," he said.

"No matter how hard our job is, we still want to go fishing on our own boat.

"I usually tell my sons that the East Sea (with the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos) belongs to Vietnam, so I don't want to stay away from it."

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Luu has been fishing in the sea for more than 30 years.

"The sea is our life. We cannot do anything but fishing," he said.

Luu wished more soft loans would be given to fishermen like him so that they could make a living on Vietnamese territorial waters.

The credit support program has VND20 billion ($340,000) in funds, and officials will ask for additional funding from local banks.

"We hope more and more local fishermen follow the footsteps of their ancestors, not to give up on Vietnam's fishing grounds," said Tran Phuong Binh, general director of Dong A Bank.

The program will also provide loans for vocational training for children of fishermen in the four provinces.

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