So-called submerged islands are really islets sitting on submerged coral reefs. In the Truong Sa archipelago, there are many such islands which are inhabited. For example, Đá Nam, Đá Lớn, Thuyền Chài, Cô Lin, Len Đao, Tiên Nữ, Núy Le, Tốc Tan, Đá Dông, Đá Tây, Đá Lát and Đá Thị. On each of them stand a few little houses, small but solid and resistant to strong winds with a living room, a kitchen, a meeting room, a gym and a few bedrooms. These islands are connected by bridges whose names are taken from bridges in the soldiers’ native villages. Our first destination is the submerged islet of Đá Lát. Colonel Nguyen Viet Thuan, Deputy Chief of the 146 brigade of Marine Region 4 finds it easy to dock on the island thanks to a calm sea. On days when the sea is stormy, docking is almost impossible.Thuan says: “At high tide, this coral island is completely under water as deep as 3m. It emerges at low tide. That’s why our soldiers often call such islands submerged islands. Thuyền Chài, the largest coral island of Truong Sa, is over 30 km long. We have built several houses on the island. Islanders and soldiers live mainly by fishing. There are not many trees on the island, only bonsai brought along by soldiers and inhabitants”.
If life on the larger islands like Trường Sa Lớn, Nam Yết, and Sinh Tồn is difficult, on these submerged islands, life is very tough. This is the first time in five years that Colonel Nguyen Duc Du has visited Da Thi island. Living conditions have improved significantly thanks to the installation of water tanks. Previously, the water shortage was chronic and residents could take only one bath every 2 or 3 days. Bathing is done in a tub so the water can be reused to water vegetables. Du says: “We grow vegetables in plastic bowls to ensure that we have vegetables for our meals. We make vegetables broth every day and three times a week we have boiled vegetables. These days, the soldiers raise ducks and chickens. “
When Colonel Nguyen Van Quang was Chief of Da Tay Island in 2003, the submerged island did not have electricity. Thanks to assistance from the Party and State, the islands now have solar or wind power around the clock. Previously, watching TV or listening to the radio was a luxury. Today, residents sing Karaoke and use mobile phones. Through the ‘Everyone brings stones to build Truong Sa” campaign, Da Tay island group now has three new cultural houses. Colonel Nguyen Van Quang told VOV: “The soldiers are happy because we have more houses for cultural and sports activities. These houses serve as shelters for fishermen during typhoons. Last year, we managed to save many lives and several fishing boats. In addition to our national defense mission, we hope to support fishing in the Truong Sa sea”.
Amid winds and tides, little houses spotting with red flags with a yellow star stand bravely on Truong Sa archipelago affirming Vietnam’s sovereignty over its sea and islands.