Bravery in the Face of Danger when Storm Victims Life at Stake

Lieutenant Chiem’s bright smile when talking to the fishermen he saved.

Lt. Vu Van Chiem, head of the Administrative Check Point, Border Defense Station 562, Ho Chi Minh Border-Guard Force, should be very proud of being named by the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League as a 2006 Vietnam Exemplary Youth. Only ten young men are accorded with such an honor each year.

According to a citation, Chiem exerted tremendous efforts, even at the expense of his life, to rescue the fishermen who were victims of Storm No. 9 that landed in Viet Nam’s Southern provinces and ravaged Can Gio district of Ho Chi Minh City in December 2006.

Surprised with the honor bestowed upon him, Chiem humbly stated that what he had done was simply a soldier’s duty in the face of a daunting situation; "Others would do the same thing," he emphasized. However, it was unanimously agreed that his heroic behavior was beyond a soldier’s line of duty.

When the news of the coming storm was released in early December last year, The Border Defense Commander of HCMC immediately instructed the staffs working at border checkpoints to be vigilant to fight against the storm that could land at anytime.

In execution of these instructions, on December 3, the Border Defense Station 562 advised local fishermen to detain their boats and ships in the dock and not to go out to sea. On December 4, they asked local people to quickly evacuate and assisted those residents in the coastal town of Long Hoa in moving further inland or to Station 562 to avoid the storm.

Not all of them realized the danger of the storm. Some fishermen refused to go to the shelter, insisting that they must take care of their belongings and assets. Chiem and his colleagues had to work until late that night persuading them to leave their boats and escorting every fisherman safely back to land.

At the graveyard hour the next day, there was no wind in the air. Some fishermen believed that the storm might not come to the area as it had not hit there before, so they secretly sailed out fishing again. Meanwhile, the soldiers, most of them coming from the Central and Northern provinces and thus being quite experienced with seaside storms and typhoons, could feel the imminent danger of a gathering storm. Chiem, the kind hearted soldier, persuaded owners of five newly-built boats to support him in any emergency cases. This was a very difficult decision for the people to make; often one does not want to risk their lives as well as their assets in a storm. However, he finally got their support thanks to his enthusiasm and kindness.

Saving fishermen’s lives in the heart of the storm

Storm No. 9 landed at 5:30 on December 12 with waves ten meters high and violent and rigorous winds. Just 10 minutes later, when hearing that some fishermen were trapped at sea, about 5 km (3 miles) from the shore, Chiem and two of his fellow soldiers, Nam and Huan, rushed to a boat of three fishermen and went out with them directly to the eye of the storm.

Affected by fierce winds, the boat had problems and twice the engine cut-out. The boat, with the water pumps also failing, was drifting uncontrollably on the high tidal waves whilst being dipped in and out of the water. The situation worsened when the soldiers lost radio contact. In this dangerous situation, Chiem assisted the fishermen in repairing the engine whilst the other soldiers managed to bail water out of the boat using hats and buckets.

When they came close to Dong Tranh sea gate, they found 12 fishermen, cold and wet through, hanging onto the piles of netting used to catch fish. Three of the fishermen tried to swim to the boat, but fierce waves dragged them off course. Chiem asked them to be calm and threw floats to them, but this was unsuccessful, the waves caused the floats to drift away. He then decided to turn off the boat’s engine and let it drift freely to the netting piles, where he then helped all of the fishermen to slowly get on board. The victims, exhausted by the storm and overwhelmed by fear, cried and clung closely to him.

After bringing the 12 victims safely back to the station, Chiem and his colleagues immediately launched back into the sea again with the 5 new boats, as he had heard that some more victims were waiting for help. The soldiers had not eaten since early morning but they pushed on, eager to do the task in the spirit of a soldier caught in the midst of war.

It is noted that before the storm came, Chiem managed to call and send regards to his family in Go Vap district and told his mother-in-law to take care of his wife and children, in case he did not return. Understanding that his own life was at risk, Chiem was still eager to go to the storm site to save the victims, as he always thought that "The greatest happiness in life one might find is when one could live wholeheartedly for the people".

By T.T - Translated by Nguyen Mai

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