A group of Vietnamese fishermen detained for nearly two months by Chinese authorities for fishing in disputed waters were repeatedly beaten and denied proper meals while in custody, according to one of them Monday.
"They beat us after the arrest. They took us to [an] island and [gave us only] one small bowl of rice a day," Le Lon, who was released with 20 other Vietnamese nationals on Friday, told RFA as he recollected their "ruthless" treatment under Chinese custody.
The 46-year-old fisherman said he was also whipped and kicked by his guards.
But Le Lon said the beatings will not stop him from going to sea again.
“We’ll go to sea whenever we have a ship. Scared or not, we still have to go because [our lives] are now too miserable,” he said citing the enormous losses suffered as a result of their captivity.
Only one of two Vietnamese fishing boats detained together with the crew by the Chinese authorities for fishing near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea has been returned, Le Lon said.
The incident was the latest row between the two neighbors.
Vietnam had demanded the "unconditional release" of the fishing boats and crew, saying they were detained in Vietnamese waters, but Beijing defended the detentions as lawful adding that it has "indisputable sovereignty" over the Paracel Islands and their adjacent waters.
Le Lon said that he and the other fishermen were diving for sea cucumbers when they were detained by Chinese authorities.
They also took away their catch of sea cucumbers and other marine products costing around 400 to 500 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $19,200 to $24,000).
One ship owner, Le Vinh, told RFA that this was the third time his vessel was held by the Chinese authorities, saying he had paid fines to recover it on the two previous occasions.
"In 2003 and 2009 [we] paid fines to take back the ships, but not this time. We were decisive in not paying fines."
"The Vietnamese government is resolute that the Paracels belong to Vietnam, so we are determined not to pay fines anymore, and we will have the [ruling Vietnamese Communist] Party and the State get involved and solve it," he said.
He estimated the losses he suffered to be as high as U.S. $30,000, saying he has applied to the government for help.
Last July, a standoff between Beijing and Hanoi over detained Vietnamese fishermen sparked a wave of anti-China protests in Vietnam.
A month ago, Hanoi accused China of "seriously" violating Vietnam's sovereignty by allowing a Chinese oil company to open bidding for oil exploration near the Paracel Islands.
China has underlined its "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Sea, saying its claims stretch back at least to the 1930s, when official maps from Beijing contained the whole sea as Chinese territory.
China has rejected calls by member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for arbitration of the maritime dispute by a U.N. tribunal set up by the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the global legislation covering all maritime territorial disputes.
It has also unveiled a map showing a U-shaped dotted line extending from China and enclosing virtually the entire South China Sea while hugging the coastlines of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.