Challenging death on killer coasts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am

There are fishing villages in Vietnam where they say the women must look for a new husband every two years.

On a typhoon-lashed coast, the risk of death is a constant companion as increasing numbers of fishermen ply perhaps the country's most dangerous and poorly paid trade. It is a national tragedy.

Reports that more than 1,000 boats are missing along the southern rump in the wake of Typhoon Linda come despite efforts by Hanoi to end the drownings that blight life in coastal towns.

Fishing communities along the coast often consist of mud shacks without running water or electricity. They are among the country's poorest villages, untouched by reforms that have brought fast growth to bigger towns.

Many of the boats working the coast are little more than four metres long, often completely bereft of safety equipment or radios.

'Most of us are too poor and can afford only nets and fuel,' said one seaman, who fishes for squid and mackerel off the reefs of Nha Trang.

'And many of us get nervous with safety equipment.

'It brings bad luck - Vietnamese fishermen are very superstitious.' And as stocks of squid and shrimp dry up, boats often have to head further and further out into the South China Sea to snare any sort of catch.

The Government has been trying for months to improve radio and weather reporting links, while trying to get captains to use life-jackets.

The moves follow a string of tragedies, including the deaths of an estimated 175 fishermen during a storm last year off the north-central province of Thanh Hoa.

As a tropical storm swept towards the coast, hundreds of boats headed out into its eye, chasing a non-existent school of giant mackerel.

The fishermen's bodies washed ashore for weeks afterwards.