Zee Media Bureau
Hanoi: The South China Sea dispute has been reignited with Chinese ships said to have rammed into Vietnamese ships in a bid to establish its oil rig in the waters claimed by both the countries.
According to a video footage released by Vietnam, a Chinese ship is shown shooting a water cannon at a Vietnamese vessel which was apparently trying to thwart the oil rig.
Several boats have been damaged and at least six Vietnamese on board them have been injured, officials said. The United States said it was concerned and accused China of ramping up tensions in the area.
Video was shown at the news conference of Chinese ships ramming into Vietnamese vessels and firing high-powered water cannons at them. Thu said the Chinese vessels have done so "dozens" of times over the last three days. He said Vietnam had not carried out any offensive actions of its own close to the rig, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) off the Vietnamese coast.
Claiming the territory as its own, China deployed its $1 billion oil rig flanked with a flotilla of Navy ships but Philippines has resisted the move, warning to respond with self -defence if provoked.
"Our maritime police and fishing protection forces have practiced extreme restraint, we will continue to hold on there," Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of Vietnam`s coast guard, told a specially arranged news conference in Hanoi. "But if (the Chinese ships) continue to ram into us, we will respond with similar self-defense."
Chinese move of deploying an oil rig in the disputed oil and gas-rich waters off Vietnamese coast has been slammed by the US as ``provocative``.
"China`s decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels for the first time in waters disputed with Vietnam is provocative and raises tensions," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Urging all sides to behave in a safe and professional manner, she added, "We are also very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels operating in this area".
"This unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region."
Elsewhere in the sea, the Philippines arrested 11 Chinese fishermen for catching endangering turtles, angering Beijing and further exposing regional strains.
China recently has been harassing Vietnam and Philippine vessels and fishermen in the potentially oil- and gas-rich waters it claims almost entirety — a shaky stance to many international law experts.
China occupied the Paracel Islands 40 years ago, and 74 US-backed South Vietnamese forces died in a subsequent military clash. The Vietnamese and Chinese navies clashed again in 1988 in the disputed Spratly Islands, leaving 64 Vietnamese sailors dead.
Not just China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, other nations like Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are also the claimants in the disputed region.
With Agency Inputs