Hanoi said yesterday that Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea had used water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and repeatedly rammed them, injuring six people.
Tensions between the neighbors have risen sharply since Beijing unilaterally announced last week it would move the deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters — a move the US has described as “provocative.”
Vietnam deployed patrol vessels after the China Maritime Safety Administration issued the unilateral navigational warning on its Web site, saying it would be drilling in the South China Sea close to the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) — which are controlled by China, but claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Vietnam said China’s decision was “illegal,” demanded that the rig be withdrawn and dispatched vessels to the area.
Vietnamese Maritime Police Deputy Commander Ngo Ngoc Thu told reporters in Hanoi that Chinese boats had collided with Vietnamese vessels in at least three separate incidents since the announcement on Saturday and that a Chinese plane had also flown low over Vietnamese police patrol boats dispatched to the area in a bid to threaten them.
He said the Chinese “used water cannon to attack Vietnamese law enforcement vessels.”
“The situation was very tense,” he said, adding that “six Vietnamese fisheries surveillance staff were injured due to broken glass.”
“We broadcast a signal asking the rig to leave the area. We have showed that we are patient and self-restrained in the face of Chinese aggressive acts,” he said, adding that Vietnam had not dispatched military ships to the area — only police and coast guard patrol boats. “Our patience is limited. If they [China] continue to hit us, we will have to take self-defense measures in return.”
Vietnam broadcast a video of the alleged ramming incidents.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) reiterated Beijing’s position that the rig was in Chinese territory.
“The drilling activity of this rig is within China’s territorial waters. The disruptive activities by the Vietnamese side are in violation of China’s sovereign rights,” she said. “The drilling activities on the rig are completely legal and we ask the Vietnamese side to stop their disruptive actions.”
Elsewhere in the South China Sea, the Philippines said it had seized a Chinese fishing vessel in disputed waters and detained its 11 crew members, in the latest escalation of their row.
It said the 15-tonne Chinese boat had been intercepted on Tuesday while fishing off Half Moon Shoal, west of the major Philippine island of Palawan, in what it said were Philippine waters.
“The seizing of the Chinese fishing boat... [was] undertaken as actions to enforce maritime laws and to uphold Philippine sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone,” a statement said.
Beijing called for Manila to release the vessel and the crew.
“We ask the Philippines side to give their explanation and deal with this case properly,” Hua said.