VN fishermen claim they were kidnapped for ransom by either Cambodian pirates disguised as Coast Guards or by actual Cambodian Coast Guards
Pirates of the Ca Mau cape
Monday, February 18, 2008
Thanh Nien News (Hanoi)
The phone woke fishing boat owner Tu Nguyen at midnight last November.
On the other line, her son Dam Quoc Sinh’s voice quivered: “Mom, we’ve been taken hostage by Cambodians. They want US$20,000.” Then the line went dead.
“Don’t bother calling them back,” said Tu’s husband.
“They’ll call us in a few days. We’d better get the money ready.”
Fishing families in Ca Mau, Vietnam’s southernmost province, are more than familiar with Cambodian pirates. They know the drill.
The next morning, the couple heard the news in town.
Their fishing village of Song Doc was abuzz: three boats, including one that Tu owned, had been captured with 59 Vietnamese fishermen off the coast of Cambodia.
The other two boats belong to Diep Hong Tien and Pham Thi Ba, also from Song Doc.
Three days later the three families’ received calls from the captors and ransom negotiations began.
From $20,000, the amount was talked down to $7,500.
After gathering the money, the boat owners followed instructions given to them by the kidnappers via a translator.
Tien said the hostage takers changed the time and means several times.
The instructions finally led Tien and the others to Kien Giang Province, which borders Ca Mau to the south and Cambodia to the northwest.
They heard nothing until midnight.
Tien was then asked to take the three families’ ransoms to the Cambodian border gate alone.
He waited at the gate all day and as the kidnappers continued to change the meeting place several times.
Finally, he crossed the border on xe om (motorbike taxi) at 8 p.m.
His part of the transaction was over five minutes later.
Tien’s son called him the next day.
He and the other hostages had been released and were on their way home.
Sinh said his boat was catching fish about 10 nautical miles from Tho Chu Island in Vietnamese waters when a grey speedboat rushed toward them with nearly 20 armed men in grey uniforms on board.
The armed men boarded Sinh’s boat and rounded up the fishermen threatening them with AK assault rifles.
They took the boat to Cambodia along with another four boats which had been taken in the same way.
The boats then moored in an area with a lot of small islands, said Sinh.
Sinh said he and two other captains had been escorted to one of the islands to meet “the boss” while the other fishermen were left in the custody of three guards.
The fishermen were forced to help build a boat that the pirates used to store oil and booty, he said.
The pirates made off with between VND40 million ($2,508) and VND50 million ($3,135) in spoils plus the $7,500 ransom.
The kidnappers’ grey uniforms have led some to speculate that the captors may have been in disguise as Cambodian Coast Guards or even that the Cambodian Coast Guard may have participated in the piracy.
Nothing new in Ca Mau
According to rough statistics of the Ca Mau provincial Fisheries Department, 61 local fishing boats have been held for ransom since 1998.
The local administration said it has been unable to solve the problem since most boat owners have preferred to pay the ransom rather than involve the authorities.
Ca Mau’s waters border those of Cambodia.
According to Nguyen Tuan, chairman of Song Doc Town’s People’s Committee, said that in some cases kidnappers had severely beaten fishermen in their custody to threaten boat owners who bargained for too low a price.