Chinese ships that have encroached on Vietnam’s waters to guard a Chinese oil rig illicitly operating there since early May have continued to attack the Vietnamese vessels that are attempting to convince them to leave the waters, two Tuoi Tre correspondents reported Sunday from the scene.
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At 10:00 am on May 11, the Tuoi Tre reporters who were on board a fisheries surveillance ship heard an alarm from its cabin.
“Chinese ships have been detected. All crewmembers, be ready to fight!” Cao Duy, the ship’s captain, said loudly.
At that time, in the Vietnamese waters where Chinese drilling rig HD 981 has been illegally stationed since May 1, a large number of vessels belonging to both China and Vietnam were being deployed in a dovetailing saw tooth pattern.
To the right of Duy’s ship, the reporters could see the oil rig clearly. Located next to the rig were two Chinese missile escort ships, on each of which three artilleries changed their directions continuously along with the movements of the Vietnamese ships.
China has deployed three military ships and ten other surveillance vessels, each with a tonnage of 5,000 tons, to protect the rig.
Meanwhile, dozens of other Chinese maritime surveillance ships were operating further away.
In total, about 80 various Chinese vessels surrounded the rig to prevent the Vietnamese vessels from requesting China to remove its rig and all of its escort ships from Vietnamese waters.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese fisheries surveillance and Coast Guard vessels continuously changed their locations to avoid being suddenly rammed by the Chinese ships and to support other Vietnamese ships vulnerable to such attacks.
At 10:20 am, the alarm was heard again, followed by Captain Duy’s warning that eight Chinese ships were directing their prows toward the Vietnamese fisheries surveillance ships.
Fisheries surveillance officers told Tuoi Tre that this was the same action that the Chinese vessels have taken over the past several days.
At that moment, a Chinese plane appeared and hovered above the sea area.
At 10:35 am, three of the eight Chinese vessels began crashing into the Vietnamese ships, while the remaining five moved to the area behind the local ships, likely intending to ram into them.
The Vietnamese ships and some other vessels, including a Coast Guard ship, immediately moved to avoid the attacks.
However, the largest of the three Chinese ships – #3401 – continued to head toward Duy’s ship.
When it was about 200 meters from the Vietnamese ship, it suddenly changed its direction and crashed into the right side of Vietnamese Coast Guard ship #4302 nearby.
Luckily, the Vietnamese ship avoided the impending collision.
The Chinese ships continued their attempted attacks until Sunday evening, while Vietnamese sailors onboard the vessels tried their best to avoid them.
Speaking with the Tuoi Tre reporters, Vu Duc Tao, a commanding officer of the Vietnamese fisheries surveillance force, said that with the experience gained from avoiding multiple attacks by the Chinese ships since May 1, the Vietnamese vessels could prevent their rivals from getting close and firing water cannons at them.
Meanwhile, the encroaching vessels were still aggressive in their attacks. They used high-pressure loudspeakers to threaten the Vietnamese vessels, and at night, they even directed floodlights on the local ships.
Also on Sunday, Colonel Ngo Ngoc Thu, Vice Commander and Chief of Staff of Vietnam’s Coast Guard, told Tuoi Tre that the Vietnamese Coast Guard had discovered two groups of Chinese military aircraft flying above some Vietnamese ships at a height of 800 to 1000 meters.
Attacks by Chinese ships from early this month have caused injuries to nine Vietnamese fisheries surveillance officers and damage to several Vietnamese vessels.
Despite the attacks, the Vietnamese Coastal Guard has continued its operations to drive the oil rig and its escort ships away from Vietnamese waters, Major General Nguyen Van Tuong, political commissar of the force, told Tuoi Tre on Sunday.
“Our force is trying to protect Vietnamese fishing boats that are operating in Vietnamese waters,” Tuong said.
The oil rig is located at 15°29’58’’ North latitude and 111°12’06’’ East longitude in the East Vietnam Sea, within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, as it is about 119 nautical miles (221 km) from Ly Son Island off the central Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai and 18 nautical miles south of Tri Ton Island of the Southeast Asian country's Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, according to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Hai Binh.
Addressing a Southeast Asian summit in Myanmar on Sunday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that China is threatening peace, stability, and freedom of navigation by illegally deploying the oil rig in Vietnam’s waters.
“This extremely dangerous action has been directly endangering peace, stability, security, and marine safety in the East Vietnam Sea,” the premier asserted.
On May 6, during a phone call with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi regarding the illegal operation of the oil rig, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh said, “Vietnam cannot accept and resolutely opposes China’s act, and demands that China move the drilling rig and escort vessels out of the area before holding talks to resolve differences around the issue.”