Chinese fishing vessels have cut the exploration cables of a ship owned by Vietnamese state-owned oil and gas company PetroVietnam while it was surveying waters in the South China Sea, the company said Monday, in an incident that could aggravate tensions in the disputed waters.
PetroVietnam authorities said the incident occurred Friday when its ship, the Banh Minh 02, was surveying an area off the coast of Vietnam’s Con Co Island where it encountered a large number of Chinese fishing boats, according to Vietnam’s state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Vietnamese maritime agencies sent warning signals to the fishing boats, requesting them to leave the area where the Binh Minh 02 was working, it said.
But two of the fishing boats sailed behind the ship, cutting its seismic cables, the newspaper said.
The incident is the second time that Chinese fishing vessels have reportedly damaged the ship’s cables, after a similar occurrence at the end of May 2011 that triggered street protests in the capital, Hanoi.
Vietnam has overlapping territorial claims with China in the resource-rich South China Sea, as do the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
PetroVietnam’s deputy head of exploration, Pham Viet Dung, said China should let its citizens know the waters belong to Vietnam in order to prevent further incidents.
"PetroVietnam vehemently protests the Chinese fishing boats' action against the Binh Minh 2," Pham Viet Dung, the deputy head of exploration at the company, said in a statement on the company's website, according to the Associated Press.
"We ask that China educate its citizens to respect Vietnamese waters,” the statement said.
China insists it has sovereignty rights over virtually all of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel Islands, and prefers to settle the disputes on a country-by-country basis instead of having the disputes “internationalized.”
Despite 10 years of diplomacy, China has refused to hold formal talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on devising a binding code of conduct aimed at reducing any chances of conflict in the sea, which experts say is Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.