A Chinese ship rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat operating in the Paracel Islands, Vietnamese state media reported Friday, in what may be the first case of China enforcing its unilateral fishing ban in parts of the South China Sea against vessels of another nation.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported that Wednesday’s incident happened near Lincoln Island, a rock in the Paracels that is occupied by China but claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The boat’s captain told Vietnamese authorities in central Quang Ngai province that a Chinese ship numbered 4006 chased and then rammed his boat, forcing all of its 16 crew to jump overboard.
After the Chinese took some crew back to pump water out of their listing boat, the Chinese seized one ton of fish, a global positioning system, and other equipment worth in total 500 million Vietnamese dong ($21,000), Tuoi Tre reported.
It said the Chinese crew kicked and beat the 42-year-old Vietnamese captain, identified as Nguyen Loc, when he refused to sign a document for them. They then departed.
The Vietnamese managed to return to shore with help from other Vietnamese fishermen, the report said.
Lincoln Island is roughly 25 nautical miles southeast of Woody Island, China’s largest military base in the Paracels and one of China’s main administrative centers in the South China Sea.
Satellite imagery shows a number of Chinese Coast Guard ships in its harbor, but it’s unknown which if any chased away the Vietnamese fishing boat.
Vietnamese vessel sunk in earlier incident
It’s the second time in little more than two months that a Vietnamese fishing vessel has come off worse for wear with a Chinese ship.
Vietnam and China traded barbs over the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel in a confrontation with a China Coast Guard ship on April 2.
Vietnam said then that China had “threatened the lives and damaged the property and legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen.” China claimed the Vietnamese vessel had rammed the Chinese ship and sunk itself.
The latest incident took place during a Chinese maritime law enforcement campaign, aimed at stopping fishermen from operating in parts of the South China Sea that China claims jurisdiction over.
China announced its annual summer fishing ban on May 1. It forbids fishing activity in the South China Sea north of the 12th parallel, which encompasses the disputed Paracels region.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have denounced the ban that China claims is for conservation purposes. Vietnam on May 20 said it would not comply with it.
In the past, China has not enforced the fishing ban on vessels from other countries.
This year, however, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and China's Coast Guard have signaled a tougher approach and dubbed their unilaterally declared ban, “Flashing Sword 2020.”
Vietnam is among the nations that contest China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, which also overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
China has faced growing criticism in the region because of its attempts to assert control over disputed areas.