Since his father’s death in 2014, Pham Ngoc Thuc, a son of Hoang Sa martyr Pham Khoi in the central coastal city of Da Nang, has continued the family’s legacy of collecting and providing archives to serve the country’s defense over its sovereignty in the East Vietnam Sea.

He goes fishing in different coastal villages and islands to fulfil his father’s wishes.

Successor of a Hoang Sa witness

According to documents of the Hoang Sa exhibition hall, Khoi joined the force protecting the islands twice, in 1965 and 1969.

His mission was to escort ships going to and from the territory, to report to the local command board, and to support ships in distress.

In April 1970, returning from the islands, Khoi brought his newly-born son to the city’s authorities for birth registration.

Thuc has his birthday stated as the day his father left the islands.

A tiny house, only 40 square meters, in a small alley on Quang Trung Street, is where Thuc keeps his fishing gear, certificates of merit, and pictures of him with fish caught on different islands.

Thuc said he did not care much about the sea at first yet his father’s stories and love of Hoang Sa gradually immersed him.

When Khoi was still alive and healthy, he and his friends usually told each other about their trips.

Stories about strange lands and seas amazed Thuc but it was not until he accidentally discovered his father’s small crate containing exotic scallop shells that he fell in love with marine life.

Khoi told his son stories of the sea, brought him along on fishing trips without knowing that he was nurturing a strong, determined man with a burning passion for the ocean.

Thuc said he became a professional fisherman in 1997.

He invested all of his money in fishing gear.

Whenever he had free time, Thuc was off for a fishing trip.

“I love fishing. I can tell whether it is shallow or deep and if I can catch any fish just by seeing the water,” he said.

Thuc poses with a fish he caught on a trip in this supplied photo.

Pham Ngoc Thuc poses with a fish he caught on a trip in this supplied photo.

Fishing on islands

Phan Thi Hoa, Thuc’s wife, said he painstakingly kept track of his trips to islands.

The fisherman knows the central sea like the back of his hand.

He remembers every single coral reef and ledge. 

Thuc is also famous for excellent diving skills.

In 2013, in their survey on Da Nang Bay’s seabed marine life status, an NGO for climate actions asked Thuc to take underwater photos for mapping.

Thuc said his farthest journey on the earliest days was to an island off the northern province of Quang Ninh.

“I was tempted to go, even without a companion, after reading an introduction about the island on the Internet,” he said.

“The trip took a couple of days and I didn’t catch any fish because the water was unfamiliar.”

Of hundreds of photo and video collections Thuc captured on his trips, those taken on Phu Quoc and Tho Chu Islands impress him the most.

The man and his friends spent months preparing for these trips.

He could not forget the moment he caught a red grouper weighing around 6kg in March 2017.

“It was hard to catch it and the price was high,” he recounted.

“At the time, I thought of returning without any catch yet the fish helped to cover the expenses of the trip.”

Thuc visited Phu Quoc Island 11 times. He also left footprints on the islands of Ly Son, Cu Lao Cham, Nha Trang Bay, and Da Dia Reef.

“It is best to go fishing on Kien Giang Province’s islands of Phu Quoc and An Thoi or Quang Tri Province’s Con Co Island, where there is still an abundance of seafood,” he said.

To ensure a good catch, a fisherman has to develop his sense, according to the Hoang Sa defender’s son.

“You cannot just sit and drop baits anywhere,” he said.

On a daily basis, Thuc is an electrician and breadwinner for a four-member family.

To pursue his passion, he does several side jobs.

On every fishing trip, he brings along his father’s portrait.

“My father encouraged me to go discovering the country’s waters,” he recalled.

“He asked me to take his picture along whenever I go.

“Since he passed away, I’ve always carried my father’s portrait with me on sea trips.”

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