Vietnam in sabotage claim against Chinese boats

Vietnam's state-run energy giant PetroVietnam accused Chinese fishing vessels of sabotaging one of its boats, state media said Tuesday, the latest clash in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

File photo of the main office of PetroVietnam in Hanoi. The state-run energy giant has accused Chinese fishing vessels of sabotaging one of its boats, the latest clash in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Geological survey vessel, the Binh Minh 2, was operating in Vietnamese territorial waters Friday when it was approached by a number of Chinese fishing vessels, Vietnam News reported.

The boats "ran up behind the Binh Minh 2, cutting the Vietnamese ship's seismic cables... Many Chinese vessels were operating in the area", company official Pham Viet Dung was quoted as saying in the report.

Dung, who is the deputy head of the exploration and exploitation department of PetroVietnam, added that the vessel's operation was restored to normal on Saturday.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources. Vietnam has begun exploring for oil in what it claims as its territorial waters.

Dung said PetroVietnam objected to the Chinese boats' actions and said Hanoi must "ask Chinese citizens to respect Vietnam's sovereignty".

This is the second such incident in 18 months, with Chinese vessels accused of cutting the cables of the Binh Minh 2 in May last year, prompting Hanoi to demand compensation from Beijing.

The two countries have a long-standing dispute in the South China Sea over their competing claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands, both potentially resource-rich rocky outcrops that straddle key shipping lanes.

China's increasingly assertive role in the South China Sea has raised tensions with other countries in the region as well as the United States.

Last week, Vietnamese border guards told AFP they were refusing to stamp entry visas into China's controversial new passports which feature a map of Beijing's claim to almost all of the South China Sea.

Other claimants to parts of the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Beijing has attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying the maps were "not made to target any specific country".

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