A Chinese vessel opened fire on a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters, according to the captain of the boat who said that he was earlier chased away by Chinese vessels carrying what appeared to be security forces.
The Vietnamese government said the incident reported last week was “very serious” and sent a protest note to Beijing, triggering off another row between the two neighbors who have long-standing territorial disputes.
The incident occurred on March 20 near the Paracel Islands, an island chain claimed by both Vietnam and China, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said in Hanoi.
Vietnam’s statement did not identify the Chinese vessel involved, but the captain of the Vietnamese boat told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that two Chinese vessels that approached him a week before the incident had carried uniformed crew.
“Their crew wore navy blue uniforms and hats. I thought they were marine police,” Pham Quang Thanh, captain of fishing boat QNG 96382, said in an interview.
'They started shooting'
After being chased away, the Vietnamese boat returned to the area to fish, but was confronted on March 20 by a Chinese vessel bearing the number 786, which came up quickly behind them, Thanh said.
“When we saw the vessel from afar, we left right away. But after about 30 to 40 minutes, they were already right behind us,” he said, adding that after chasing his boat for some time, his Chinese pursuers opened fire.
“I tried to head east to get away, but they were close to us, and they started shooting at us,” Thanh said.
Thanh then ran inside the boat’s cabin, he said.
“I heard four explosions and found that the boat’s cabin was on fire, and I called everybody to put out the fire with sea water.”
His Chinese attackers had meanwhile left, eventually halting about five or six nautical miles away, he said.
“They just left. They didn’t show any willingness to help, or even to stop to check on us. They wanted to destroy us.”
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, which has been a frequent focus of disputes over oil-exploration and fishing rights.
“[But] I know that area is our territory. The Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam,” Thanh told RFA, adding,“My ancestors have gone to the Paracel Islands ever since the 16th and 17th century.”
“I think I still have the courage to pursue this job,” he said. “I want to maintain the tradition of my family.”
On Monday, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi called the incident “very serious,” saying the Chinese vessels were “infringing Vietnam's territory right over Paracel Islands, threatening lives and damaging assets of Vietnamese fishermen.”
China should compensate the Vietnamese fishermen for losses suffered, he added.
The foreign ministry has also sent an official protest letter to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.