Many Vietnamese fishermen go to work aboard foreign vessels, mostly Taiwanese and Korean, with dreams of a better life.
37-year-old Nguyen Van Duong from Ha Tinh has to live on a wheelchair after working for a Korean fishing vessel
But for some, it turns into a nightmare of horrific working conditions, poor compensation, accidents, disability, and even death on foreign soil.
Almost every fishing village in Vietnam’s central region has men working on South Korean or Taiwanese fishing boats.
In some, their numbers run into hundreds.
Nguyen Van Duong, 37, of Ky Khang Commune in Ha Tinh Province’s Ky Anh District is among those who life has been destroyed by a stint abroad.
His South Korean odyssey in 2001 haunts him to this day.
He found a job as a deckhand on a fishing boat owned by MoNa company through LOD, a Vietnamese employment agency. He was paid a monthly salary of US$300.
His world came crashing down one day when he fell on the deck from a height of 10 meters while doing some work.
“I do not remember how exactly it happened. I just remember a wooden board on which I was standing broke. When I came back to, I found myself in a hospital with metal bars fixed in my neck.”
From the boat’s captain he found out that his spine was broken, leaving him paralyzed below his chest.
After two months of treatment in Africa, Duong was flown back to Vietnam.
He needed continued treatment at Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City but it was not covered by insurance or his employers and his family had to borrow money.
Duong said he received no support from the Vietnamese labor company either during his nine-month stay at the hospital.
For the last seven years his wife Nguyen Thi Hanh has been caring for him.
Hanh said two screws planted in the back of his neck need to be removed but has not been done due to lack of money.
She wanted to sell their house to raise money but Duong has been adamantly opposed to it despite suffering from severe pain in cold weather.
Nguyen Si Thang of Ky Ninh Commune, also in Ha Tinh broke his right leg and many teeth in an accident while working on a Taiwanese boat.
That day the vessel arrived in South Africa, he was assigned to paint it. As a consequence of being exhausted after working the previous night, he felt giddy and fell from the scaffold to the deck.
In Ha Tinh, Cuong Gian Commune alone sent 2,040 people to work abroad, mostly as sailors for South Korean and Taiwanese fishing vessels.
Fifty of them have died since 1994 while 30 others were injured.
Cemetery for sailors
Dang Hai Tung, who worked as a chef on a South Korean fishing boat, died one day after inhaling toxic gas in the boat’s refrigeration hold.
The boat owner falsely informed Tung’s family that he had died of a stroke and that his body would be buried or cremated.
But thanks to timely interference by a Vietnamese doctor who has been living in Senegal, My Ha, the owner finally admitted Tung had been killed by the toxic gas and agreed to repatriate his body to Vietnam for burial.
Speaking to Tuoi Tre by phone, Ha said there have been many cases of Vietnamese sailors dying and being buried by their employers in Senegal without informing their family.
“Along the West African coast, the bodies of many sailors, not only Vietnamese but also from other countries like Indonesia and China, are buried in desolate cemeteries,” she said.
Haiti is another place where many Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indonesian sailors have been buried.
Hoang Dinh Chau, an overseas Vietnamese sailor originally from Ha Tinh, said Nguyen Thi Nhung, a resident of his commune, lost four sons who died while working as sailors in Haiti and three of them were buried there.
Fiji is another place where some of Chau’s colleagues were buried.