The captain of a Vietnamese fishing boat that came under attack near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea said he is still reeling from the deadly incident, but asserted that his team will return to fish the contested waters.
Captain Bui Van Cu said his crew has no choice but to continue fishing the sea as it is crew members' only livelihood and the only means to pay back loans they borrowed to build the ship.
One fisherman on Cu's vessel was shot dead by a group of eight unidentified assailants last month.
Cu told Vietnamese officials investigating the killing that the two boats used by the plainclothes attackers looked like ones often used by Philippine fishermen.
"But if [they were] Chinese [assailants that] pretended to be from the Philippines ... I have no idea," the captain said.
Fishermen not armed
A Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson last month did not specify who carried out the raid, only condemning "the inhumane killing, and the use of force against Vietnamese fishermen."
Cu says outraged fisherman from the maritime-dependent Quang Ngai province want reassurances from government officials.
"They are so scared. Fishermen from other countries are armed, but the Vietnamese are not, so we are easily bullied," said Cu, adding that he has encouraged Vietnamese officials to start arming fishing boats.
"If they allow us to carry guns, I will certainly do so to protect my asset as well as Vietnamese islands," he said. "I am afraid that they will not let us do that."
Vietnam hasn't responded to Cu's request or similar calls from lawmakers or officials in charge of fisheries management.
Earlier this year, an official order stipulated that Vietnamese fishing surveillance forces be armed with conventional weapons to protect national resources and fishermen; parliamentarians endorsed a budget of more than $756 million to support its maritime forces and fishermen in 2014.
Fishing crews at risk
Vietnam, China and the Philippines all claim at least some portion of the Spratly archipelago.
While Hanoi continues trading accusations with Beijing over aggressive behavior in the disputed, resource-rich maritime region, its fishermen have borne the brunt of mounting tensions.
Critics have accused Vietnamese authorities of putting fishing crews at risk by urging them to maintain their presence at sea in order to protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Hanoi officials maintain that much of the Spratly and Paracel islands, along with the surrounding waters, belong to Vietnam, so its fishermen "have their rights to work there."
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.