Vietnam protests to Beijing over fishing boat chase, sinking

Reuters, HANOI

Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 1

Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that was being chased by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel in the disputed South China Sea, Hanoi said late on Thursday.

Vietnam and China have long been embroiled in a dispute over the potentially energy-rich stretch of waters, called the East Sea by Vietnam.

The fishing vessel was moored near Da Loi Island in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on March 6 when a China Coast Guard vessel chased it and fired water cannon at it, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The boat sank after hitting rocks while it was being chased; all five fishermen on board were rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat, the ministry said.

A Vietnamese rescue agency had earlier said that the Chinese vessel rammed the fishing boat.

“The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago, [and] threatened the lives and damaged the properties and the legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” the ministry said, referring to the Paracel Islands by their Vietnamese name.

Vietnam lodged a protest with China’s embassy in Hanoi and demanded that Beijing deal strictly with its agency to prevent such incidents and to fairly compensate the fishermen for their losses.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said that the Paracel Islands are China’s and Vietnam must immediately stop illegal fishing activities in the area.

The fishing boat had already struck a reef and sunk before the Chinese vessel arrived, he added.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, where it has steadily expanded military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs, unnerving the region and angering Washington.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have claims to all or parts of the sea.

Separately yesterday, the Vietnamese government denounced Taiwan’s military drills on and around Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls Ba Binh.

Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that the drills were “a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the [Spratly] archipelago [Nansha Islands, 南沙群島], threatening peace, stability and maritime safety and security.”

“Vietnam resolutely opposes [the drills] and demands that Taiwan not repeat similar actions,” Hang said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.