Having gone to the sea since childhood, Do Van Trung, 44, in Phu Trung hamlet in Nghia An commune in Quang Ngai City, is one of the most experienced fishermen in the locality.

In 2018, Trung mortgaged his house to borrow VND5 billion from a bank to buy two fishing boats with total capacity of 1,240 horsepower. The boats were worth VND9 billion.

Owning two large ships, Trung, together with his 15 partners, went to the open sea to catch fish. Each trip to the sea, which lasted 20 days on average, brought him VND150 million.

At first, fishing was very good which allowed Trung to bank debts on schedule. However, he began having difficulties in late 2018 and could not pay his debts. As a result, the bank stopped lending and the fishery was suspended.

Sitting on the fishing boat valued at billions of dong which has been ashore for four years, Trung said he not only borrowed money to buy the two boats but also borrowed VND700 million to buy fuel, essentials and pay partners in advance. When the bank stopped the disbursement, he could not go fishing anymore.

One of his fishing boats is now lying ashore at Tho Quang fishing port in Da Nang, while the other is in Nghia An commune.

Because of difficulties, Trung decided to sell the boats.

“I spent nearly VND10 billion to buy the two boats and equip them with machines. But now the bank assessed their value at just VND200 million. However, despite the low price, the ships have not sold over the last four years,” he said.

His total debts, including principal and interest, have reached VND6 billion. 

Looking at the ship lying idle at Co Luy wharf (Nghia An commune), Trung said: "Every month, when the bank staff come to do the paperwork, my wife and I tremble because we are afraid the house may be distrained. If this happens, our family will be empty handed, my wife and three children won’t have accommodation."

Next to Trung's ragged ship is the ship of Le Thi Tien, 46, from Pho An village.

In 2011, Tien borrowed VND4 billion to buy two ships with total capacity of 1,240 horsepower.

In the beginning years, the business went well which allowed her to regularly pay bank debts. However, since 2017, the fishing ground has been running out of aquatic resources because of the sharp rise in the number of ships. As a result, her fishery became stagnant.

In May 2019, as Tien and her family could no longer hold out, they had to leave the boats ashore.

In June 2021, they sold one of the boats for VND700 million and paid the bank debt. The other boat has been put up for sale, but no one has asked to buy it. As it has been exposed to sun and rain, it has been seriously damaged.

“We still owe VND3.2 billion and we cannot pay debts. My husband, who owned two fishing boats worth billions of dong, has had to quit his job as a seafarer. He is now a factory worker who receives VND5 million a month and gets by on this modest income,” Tien said.

Behind the multi-billion dong ships which once crossed the fishing grounds of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa and that are now being sold at a reduced price are economically exhausted fishermen.

Fishermen need help

Under the sweltering sun in July, Do Minh Dung, 52, in Tam Quang commune was seen trying to repair a battery for a small boat which he will use for fishing along the river.

“The big ship was all of my fortune and it was sold million to pay the VND200 million bank debt. I have to switch jobs and work as a hired worker, because I don’t know which new occupation I can have at my age,” he complained.

Dung said he borrowed VND600 million to build a boat worth VND1.15 billion in 2017. He and three other fishermen went to Truong Sa fishing ground to fish, and each trip lasted 16 days. 

“I took four trips until the day I sold the boat. But no trip can bring profit,” he said.

The fuel cost him VND30 million, and the pay to three partners was VND21 million. As such, he had to spend at least VND51 million for each trip, while the revenue was just VND45 million.

“I will go to open sea to fish if the fuel prices go down and become stable,” he said.

Ho Giap - Ngoc Vien - Cong Sang