27/06/2018 16:54 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

Desire for peace on Collins Reef

On a night with a full moon on Co Lin (Collins Reef), twenty-five-year-old Nguyen Thi Mo stayed up all night to fold 235 paper cranes for us to place on the wavy East Sea hoping for peace.
Swell in Co Lin
After Truong Sa (Spratlys) Ship 571 had just left Cam Ranh port in Khanh Hoa province for Truong Sa island district, Lieutenant Colonel Le Van Tang from the Political Department of the High Command of the Vietnam People's Navy told us the first destination of our trip was Co Lin. 

 Ship HQ 505, the symbol of Vietnam’s sovereignty on Co Lin.  Photo: Vinh Quang

 Captain Vu Huy Le and soldiers of ship HQ 505 on Co Lin
shared the joy of receiving letters from their families in 1988. Photo: Vinh Quang

 Reporters met with soldiers on ship HQ 505 in 1988. Photo: Vinh Quang

 The ceremony on ship 571 to commemorate 64 martyrs from the Gac Ma event. Photo: Thong Thien

 Releasing flowers to commemorate martyrs who laid down their lives for their nation. Photo: Thong Thien

 Touching moments at the ceremony. Photo: Thong Thien

 Paper birds released on the sea near Co Lin symbolize the desire for peace of Vietnamese people.
Photo: Thong Thien


I felt so moved hearing this name because a few months ago, I looked at old papers and searched old film sheets taken by Vietnam Pictorial reporters of older generations on their first trip to the Spratly Islands in 1988. Co Lin in their photos wasn’t the island, it was just the legendary ship HQ 505, which sailed to Co Lin in the Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef) event to reconfirm the sovereignty of Vietnam on the reef.

We reached Co Lin when the red sun set behind swells to the west. Ship 571 blew a long blast on its horn before anchoring. The reef appeared very near but we could not get to it  by boat because the tides were so low.

Night on the East Sea was coated gold by the moonlight. We all directed our eyes toward the Gac Ma Reef, sharing the same thought “an inch of soil is separated, thousands of inches of soil are hurt.”

The next morning, a ceremony to commemorate fallen soldiers on Truong Sa archipelago was held on the deck of Ship 571. With a gentle voice, Colonel Le Van Tang delivered a speech praising the indomitable spirit of 64 officers and soldiers who died on the Gac Ma Reef 30 years ago. Sixty four sons of the fatherland forever remained in the sea to keep Co Lin safe. We released paper cranes and patels which drifted out toward Gac Ma.

Cock crow on the East Sea

At 5am, we were woken by a ringing bell. In the silent air of the early morning, I heard a cock crow which seemed very close. The cock crowing in the middle of the sea struck me as strange as if I were in a familiar village on the mainland.

Co Lin Reef has an important position at sea. Photo: Thong Thien

 Fish poison trees grow in jars on Truong Sa. Photo: Thong Thien

The dogs on Co Lin are called “soldier dogs”. Photo: Thong Thien

 Many species of birds live on Co Lin but the albatross is the majority. Photo: Thong Thien

 An art performance on Co Lin by Son La province’s art troupe. Photo: Thong Thien

 A visitor poses with soldiers on the island. Photo: Thong Thien

 Bidding farewell. Photo: Thong Thien

From ship 571, we got to Co Lin by boat. The hug of each soldier on the island was imbued with salty sweat. Their station was a building which was built on the very site ship HQ 505 ran aground on in 1988, according to Senior Lieutenant Ngo Van Bun, the commissar on Co Lin. The ship has become a symbol of the sovereignty of Vietnam on Co Lin.

Further on from Co Lin, one could see Gac Ma Reef. Parting with us, Captain Nguyen Van Cuong looked faraway, saying: “The sea around the Spratly islands in May is calm but here and there, rogue waves lurk about. But we are determined to keep every single rock, every coral reef, every bird’s wing in the air and on the sea of our fatherland.” These words were not only for us, but were also a promise to the 64 comrades who bravely sacrificed their lives 30 years ago.

In April 1988, just a month after the Gac Ma event, two reporters from Vietnam Pictorial, Le Phuc and Vinh Quang, were present on ship HQ 505 on Co Lin on Truong Sa to report on the tense situation in the East Sea at that time.
Story: Thong Thien - Photos: Vinh Quang & Thong Thien