Vietnamese Marine Police ships patrolling Vietnamese waters were rammed by Chinese marine police, Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the High Command of Vietnam Marine Police said Wednesday.
Thu was speaking at an international press conference held in Hanoi after China deployed a giant mobile drilling rig to search for oil and gas inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea.
Videos showed at the press conference showed Chinese ships, backed by helicopters, aggressively obstructing Vietnamese ships.
The Chinese ships also sprayed water cannons, damaging Vietnamese vessels and injuring their crew members, Thu said.
Tran Duy Hai, deputy chairman of the Vietnam National Border Committee, said China deployed 80 ships to accompany the oil rigs, including 7 military ships, 33 marine patrol boats and surveillance ships and many other vessels including fishing vessels.
At around 8:10 am on May 3, a Chinese ship struck the right side of a Vietnamese Marine Police vessel at high speed, smashing the windows of the Vietnamese vessel that was attempting to take evasive maneuvers, Thu said.
The crash location was some 10 nautical miles from the Chinese drilling rig, he added while showing the videos and images.
Another Chinese ship collided with a Vietnamese ship at around 8 a.m. on May 4, he said.
A total of eight Vietnamese ships were rammed, hit or sprayed with high pressure hoses.
At one point, five Chinese ships surrounded a single Vietnamese vessel, Thu said.
“Vietnamese fishing surveillance forces were protecting the nation’s sovereignty and jurisdiction and asking Chinese to withdraw from the area,” he said.
“Vietnam has tried to restrain. But if Chinese vessels continue ramming Vietnamese ships, we’ll have to act out of self-defense.”
Hai, the deputy chairman of the Vietnam National Border Committee, said Vietnam had used a hotline at the deputy prime minister level to discuss the case.
Vietnam also informed other countries, including Southeast Asian neighbors, about the incidents; all are concerned by China’s action.
Do Van Hau, general director of PetroVietnam (PVN), said there has been no commercial discovery of oil and gas at the site.
Asked what action Vietnam would take if China goes further to survey and extract oil and gas in thewaters PVN is operating, Hau said Vietnamese authorities will not allow China to do so under any circumstances.
Vietnam’s strong protests
Earlier on May 6, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh strictly criticized China for sending the giant mobile drilling rig into Vietnam’s water in a phone call to Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
“Vietnam will take all proper and necessary measures to protect its legitimate rights and interests,” Minh, who is also Vietnamese Foreign Minister, said.
China’s unilateral deployment of drilling rig HD-981 and a fleet of vessels, including military ones, into Vietnamese waters is illegal, runs contrary to international law and practices, seriously violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago and its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, he said
“Vietnam cannot accept and resolutely protests the China’s act and demands China totally withdraw its drilling rig as well as escort vessels from the area, and sit down for talks with Vietnam about how to handle these differences,” he said over the phone.
On May 3, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration announced that the rig HD-981 would drill in a location of 15 degrees and 29’58’’ North latitude and 111 degrees and 12’06’’ East longitude from May 2 to August 15.
On May 4, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Hai Binh protested the move of China, saying that the location lies well within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, some 120 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast.
Vietnam has historical evidence and legal ground to prove its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos as well as the sovereign right and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.
On the same day, a representative from the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs met with a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to deliver Vietnam’s diplomatic note to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, protesting the drilling rig’s operation.
However, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration on May 5 reaffirmed that the HD-981 rig will operate for three months in the area.
On May 6, the United States warned China that a decision to move the oil rig into disputed waters in the East Sea was a “provocative” step which it was monitoring closely.
“Given the recent history of tensions in the South China Sea, China’s decision to operate its oil rig in disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region,” US State Department deputy spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Analysts say the rig is a high-value capital asset that gives China new, unilateral capabilities which it is under commercial and other pressures to exploit to the full.
“The decision to deploy the rig within Vietnam’s EEZ [exclusive economic zone] but still relatively close to Hainan is likely to reflect concerns about deploying such an expensive asset too far offshore, where China is unable to defend it.,” Euan Graham, a maritime analyst with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told Thanh Nien News.
“If the rig is drilling within Vietnam’s EEZ, then this is a deliberate and calculated effort to test Hanoi’s resolve,” he said.
“Yet China’s response still shows a reluctance to use military force first.”